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Finding Neverland (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland


Starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman, Radha Mitchell, Eileen Essell, Freddie Highmore, Joe Prospero, Nick Roud, Luke Spill, Ian Hart, Kelly Macdonald, Mackenzie Crook, Jimmy Gardner, Oliver Fox and Angus Barnett.

Screenplay by David Magee.

Directed by Marc Forster.

Distributed by Miramax Pictures.  106 minutes.  Rated PG.

Johnny Depp is the ideal person to play the man who imagined a boy who refused to grow up.  For Depp has always had a touch of the Peter Pan in himself.  You often get the feeling in his portrayals that he’s a bad boy who never really wants to settle down (marriage to Parisian chanteuse Vanessa Paradis aside). 

His films often are about childhood fascinations; ghost stories (Sleepy Hollow), tales of lost treasure (The Pirates of the Caribbean), grisly mysteries (From Hell), cowboys (Dead Man, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), fanciful magic candy makers (the upcoming Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) and cockeyed dreamers (Ed Wood).  Even when he plays adults like Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or the deluded Casanova in Don Juan DeMarco, the character has a core of innocence that is difficult to overlook.

Therefore, Depp is an ideal choice to play Victorian-era Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, who is best remembered as the scribe of the ultimate children’s adventure, Peter Pan.

As the film opens, Barrie is at the disastrous opening night of his latest play.  Barrie seems bored with his success and his career, and he needs a new challenge.  In the meantime, his producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) has sunk all of his money into leasing the theater for several months, so when the play closes immediately Frohman tells Barrie that he needs a new show rushed.

Barrie finds the new inspiration he needs one day when he meets a widow, Sylvia Llewellyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four sons.  Barrie falls deeply in love with Mrs. Llewellyn Davies, but not in a sexual way.  (In fact, watching this film, you wonder if Barrie felt any sexual urges at all.)  However, in his chaste way, the widow and her children became the most vital part of his life.  They become his reason for living, and the muse for his greatest work of art.

Barrie is most fascinated by young Peter, a little boy who seems that he has already grown up.  He is more heartbroken by his father’s death than his siblings and he takes everything horribly seriously.  Barrie sees much of himself in Peter, he also felt he needed to act adult when he was young.  Barrie doesn’t want Peter to also have to wait like he had until adulthood to be able to enjoy being a child.

The relationship between Barrie and the children is treated with the utmost respect and gravity; it may be hard in the 21st century to pull off a story of a man loving children so fully without it being a little bit creepy.  After all, as the film is in the theaters the whole Michael Jackson scandal is playing out again in courts.  Whether he is guilty or innocent, the whole idea of a grown man playing with children in Neverland has been tainted.

The film treats these thoughts firmly and decisively.  When an acquaintance suggests that people are gossiping about all the time that Barrie is spending with the children and what they could be doing, the playwright reacts with shock and revulsion that something so innocent and beautiful could be looked at in such an ugly, hurtful way.

Of course, even at this time, the relationship that Barrie had with the family was an odd one, and not one that was without casualties.  Barrie’s own marriage to wife Mary (Radha Mitchell), not exactly on strong footing to begin with, unravels and finally comes completely apart.  Mary can’t understand why her husband prefers to spend all his time with them instead of coming home.  Also worried by the relationship is Sylvia’s mother, Mrs. Emma DuMaurier (Julie Christie), who also wonders what his intentions are, particularly when her daughter starts showing symptoms of sickness.

However, these doubts miss the point.  At one point Peter lashes out at Barrie, telling him that he is not his father.  Of course he isn’t, in fact he probably doesn’t want to be, he’d prefer to be their brother.  Yet, in a strange way he does become their father.  Through his friendship with these children, Barrie is finally able to be a child and a better man.  A pretty spectacular play came out of it, too.  (11/04)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2005  All rights reserved. Posted: February 5, 2005.


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