A charming and moving fairytale
By Philip Concannon
, 07 Nov 2004
After his latest play is a flop, JM Barrie(Johnny Depp) is struggling to find inspiration for his next effort. While writing in the park one afternoon, he meets Sylvia Davies(Kate Winslet), a widow, and her three children. He starts to spend an increasing amount of time with the family, delighting them with his imaginative games and flights of fancy. But his efforts are not appreciated by everyone, especially his social-climbing wife(Radha Mitchell) and Sylvia's tyrannical mother(Julie Christie).
Marc Forster's wonderful movie doesn't pretend to be anything like a biopic of Barrie or a true telling of how 'Peter Pan' came to be. Instead Forster and screenwriter David Magee play fast and loose with the facts, creating a witty, subtle and powerful celebration of innocence and imagination. Forster cleverly drops in little moments which will later appear in Barrie's most celebrated play, and the transitions between the reality and fantasy sequences are smoothly handled.
But it's the outstanding ensemble cast which makes 'Finding Neverland' such satisfying experience. Depp is in his element as Barrie, giving possibly his finest performance yet. An actor who has made a career from playing grotesques and oddballs, he makes a fully rounded character from Barrie and never puts a foot wrong. He's matched by the ever-excellent Winslet, who plays Sylvia as a strong-willed young woman, desperately keeping a lid on her vulnerability for the sake of her family.
Radha Mitchell, Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman are all on fine form in their supporting roles, and Forster also gets fine performances from the young actors playing Sylvia's children. Freddie Highmore gives a hugely impressive display as Peter, the stubborn boy who will become the inspiration for Barrie's main character, and Joe Prospero, as his older brother, handles a difficult role with subtlety and skill.
'Finding Neverland' isn't a perfect film, taking one or two too many trips to invented worlds, but it's a supremely rewarding one. The emotional second half will ensure there isn't a dry eye in the house as the credits roll. A gorgeous, inspiring fairytale which is guaranteed to steal your heart.
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