Finding Neverland (2004)

Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland (2004)

Delving Depp into the land of J.M. Barrie

It's 1903 and author & playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp - Pirates of the Caribbean) is at a career low as his latest play proved to be another turkey. Whilst walking his dog "Porthos" he comes across the Llewelyn Davies family and entertains the young boys with his tale of a dancing bear, acted out with his dog. It's not long before Barrie becomes part of the Llewelyn Davies family, despite objections from Mrs. Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie - Troy). Regarded as Uncle Jimmy which not only causes tension in his own marriage but raises speculation amongst society it is whilst watching the family and playing with the boys that he is inpired to write "Peter Pan".

Just as J. M. Barrie was inspired by the Llewelyn Davies family when he wrote "Peter Pan", you could say that "Finding Neverland" is inspired by the life of J.M. Barrie. Because whilst "Finding Neverland" acknowledges elements of J.M. Barrie's life, his friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family and the creation of his now famous story this is very much a fictionalized account which attempts to bring the imagination of J.M. Barrie to life. Is it any good, surprisingly so as whilst "Finding Neverland" manages to skip over many elements of Barrie's life, embellishing others and changing the truth on more than one occasion it manages to be fun, dramatic and touching, portraying J.M. Barrie as almost misunderstood.

Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland (2004)

So "Finding Neverland" starts with Barrie suffering another turkey of a play, as he hides back stage peering from behind the curtain half nervous, half excited. It's a clever opening because it immediately starts to create the character of Barrie, a grown man who has a few childlike tendencies. What follows has a distinct biographical feel as we learn all about his marriage to Mary Ansell, the frostiness of it as they appear to want different things and on to the meeting with the Llewelyn Davies family who he spent more and more time with as they became the inspiration for the characters in "Peter Pan".

But "Finding Neverland" mixes fact with fiction; it changes many elements of the truth in dramatizing events. For example in "Finding Neverland" Barrie meets the Llewelyn Davies family and in particular Sylvia Llewelyn Davies some time after her husband had died, where in truth Sylvia's husband died after Barrie grew to know the family. This is just one of the many liberties which have been taken with the truth in order to make "Finding Neverland" work on screen and in this case pave way to the suggested deeper feelings between Barrie and Sylvia. But this messing about with the facts doesn't actually matter as the essence of Barrie's life and in particular his friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family still comes across.

Although at the same time there are certain elements of Barrie's life that are glossed over, such as his childlike friendship with children. There is a moment's insinuation in "Finding Neverland" that Barrie's friendship with young boys is improper, but it is glossed over. Now for the sake of the movie it works, this is a fantasy dramatisation of Barrie's life rather than a truthful biopic and focussing on more of the gritty elements would have changed the movie's emotion. But at the same time it makes it far less of a real biopic.

Aside from the look at Barrie's life "Finding Neverland" tries to bring to life the childlike imagination which he had. Scenes where Barrie is playing with the Llewelyn Davies children in the garden in some make believe game of pirates flits between reality and Barrie's vivid imagination with them dressed as pirates on the high sees. Earlier on we see him entertain the kids in the park pretending that his dog "Porthos" is in fact a dancing bear and again if flits between reality and his vivid imagination with him in a circus dancing with a bear. It most definitely makes the movie come to life, painting this wonderful picture of a man who unlike so many of us managed to hold on to his youthful imagination.

At the same time "Finding Neverland" also paints a picture of Barrie being not so much an oddball but someone who was both gentle and kind but also a little quirky. And who better to play such a textured character other than Johnny Depp, who I have to say gives one of his better, more restrained performances yet at the same time still gives the character a sense of child like energy. Although it has to be said that I am not entirely sure where he got the accent, heavy Scottish one moment, soft and almost unrecognizable the next it makes it a little too strange.

Aside from Johnny Depp who really is the star of "Finding Neverland" there is a solid performance from Kate Winslet as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and an innocently charming one from a very young looking Freddie Highmore. Although the most striking of the supporting performances comes from Julie Christie as Sylvia's pushy mother Mrs. Emma du Maurier, an almost villainous character played brilliantly by Christie who it has to be said still looks amazing.

What this all boils down to is that "Finding Neverland" is a wonderfully entertaining movie which whilst technically a biopic of sorts is much more of a fictionalized account of the life of J.M. Barrie. It blends fiction and fantasy and in doing so takes us on a journey into the mind of J.M. Barrie as the Llewelyn Davies family inspire him to write "Peter Pan".