Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland

*****

Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

This loosely biographical study of Scottish playwright J M Barrie (Johnny Depp) focuses on his friendship with Sylvia Llewellyn Davies (Kate Winslet), a widow with four young boys.

Barrie becomes indispensable to them, as libertarian father figure, entertainer and support for careworn Sylvia, and, following his last ill-received play, the relationship with the family and their games of make-believe inspire his best known work - Peter Pan.

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Needless to say, tongues begin to wag about Barrie's behaviour. His marriage to the glacial Mary (Radha Mitchell) is on the rocks, his patron (Dustin Hoffman) is having doubts about his ability to put on a successful play and Sylvia's overbearing mother (Julie Christie) is trying to stop his involvement with the family.

Pushing aside the suggestion that there was a more sinister element to his relationship with the boys, Barrie is portrayed by Depp as an innocent, at times as vulnerable as a child, but with great strength and resilience. He's a free-thinker, with a genuine care for his fellow men, struggling to make his stuffy, cynical Edwardian contemporaries lighten up and get in touch with their inner child - a tension that produces some delicious comic moments, like when he turns up for tea in full Red Indian head-dress and war paint to the disgust of Sylvia's mum.

Purists will argue that the real story has been tweaked and glossed over, but it's actually a film that maintains a striking integrity in a different way: it fictionalises unashamedly, but is never trite, nor sentimental, and the accomplished big name cast create relationships between their characters that are totally credible.

The acting is so good it seems unfair to single anyone out in particular, except, keep an eye open for cameos by Paul Whitehouse and Kelly Macdonald. The fantasy sequences are lavish and magical, as they should be, and allow a glimpse into a truly unique imagination, complementing the drama, rather than dominating it.

It is difficult to find anything bad to say about a film that treats an interesting subject with such respect and ingenuity. It's engaging, funny and the design is a feast for the eyes.

This is a film to melt the heart of even the most hardened cynic.

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2004
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Finding Neverland packshot
Loose biopic of Peter Pan author JM Barrie.
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Director: Marc Forster

Writer: David Magee, based the play by Allan Knee

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Ian Hart, Kelly Macdonald, Paul Whitehouse, Nick Roaud, Joe Prospero, Freddie Highmore, Kate Maberly, Luke Spill

Year: 2004

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK/US

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