Cast: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman and Freddie Highmore
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by David Magee
Marc Forster’s ‘Finding Neverland’ follows the story of writer J.M Barrie (Depp) as he finds the inspiration for the characters that changed his life. Wrapped in moments of heightened joy, grief, frustration and imagination we find Barrie stuck in a rut as his latest play fails to impress an audience with whom Barrie struggles to relate as well as negotiating a cold, awkward relationship. A chance meeting with the Llewelyn Davies family; four young boys and their mother (Winslet) unshackles not only J.M Barrie’s creativity as a writer but also Marc Forster’s own visual ingenuity.
Depp’s performance as J.M Barrie is so uniquely his own. The script allows for emotional jumps between sobering realities of ‘adulthood’ and expectation contrasted with the jovial encounters with the Llewelyn Davies children. It keeps the film moving at a decent pace whilst allowing space for the slower moving moments. Kate Winslet is just as brilliant as Depp in her role, yet both leads are arguably upstaged by Freddie Highmore. At just 11 years of age when he played Peter Llewelyn Davies he gave such a raw, emotional performance that connects the whole story and allows the audience to see how a character like Peter Pan could have been inspired.
The combination of the quaint Victorian setting and Barrie’s wonderful imagination allows Forster to conjure up a world where fantasy leaks into the everyday as fleeting moments; be it a tinkling bell or a brandished hook, Forster’s merging of reality and imagination is what really makes the film stand out. There’s something liberating about imagination being encouraged in such a film, particularly as the film is not explicitly for children.
Although rated a PG the film explores loss and grief quite significantly, it’s a true credit to David Magee for incorporating how both children and adults might cope with such emotional trials whilst still enabling a younger audience to watch should their parents deem it appropriate. Any themes that could be considered slightly more adult are discreetly woven into the script, subject to the viewer choosing to consider the parts of the story that aren’t told in the film. I love that they keep the storyline relatively simple, they don’t throw big dramatic moments into the plot just for the sake of it. The filmmakers trust their story and their actors to tell it.
It is worth noting that this film is not a biography, it’s classified as a ‘historical fantasy drama’ based on the 1988 play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee. It attempts to tell how biographical events inspired Barrie’s 1904 stage play; namely the relationships between the playwright and his lost boys…
“You find a glimmer of happiness in this world, there’s always someone who wants to destroy it”