"A great family movie that is visually rich and full of substance."
Director Marc Forster’s second outing is a very different movie to his academy award winning Monster’s Ball. Where his first was a harrowing story set in modern times and delivered with a harsh sense of realism, Finding Neverland is a family orientated period drama that effortlessly blends fantasy with reality. It is a visually rich film that carries strong messages that are never too overbearing and thankfully, does not get bogged down with over-sentimentality.Finding Neverland (or the play on which it is based "The Man Who Was Peter Pan" by Allan Knee) never pretends to be a historically accurate biography or portrayal of JM Barrie but it is loosely based on real events that lead up to the writing of his masterwork. The film begins with both Barrie’s career and life reaching a crisis point. His relationship with his wife is rapidly deteriorating; his latest play was an absolute flop with London’s highly cultured critics and he has hit a brick wall as far as inspiration for another play is concerned. Despite the failure of his last play producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) decides to give Barrie another chance.
Desperate for ideas he heads out to the park with his trusty canine in search of inspiration, which soon finds him in the form of four young boys and their widowed mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). Barrie befriends this family much to the disapproval to Sylvia’s mother (Julie Christie) and the gossipy social circles of the time. Regardless of this, Barrie continues visiting the family with a determination to free the children’s minds whilst rediscovering the joy of childhood for himself. He is eager to dispel the maturity the loss of their father has brought about but remains respectful and understanding of their sadness. Through inventive games the children’s imaginations are kindled as Barrie is rewarded with pages of inspiration for a place he calls Neverland which would later become his play Peter Pan.
Johnny Depp impresses yet again with another eccentric and enchanting character. He convincingly takes on a Scottish accent and his playful portrayal of Barrie is a delight. Kate Winslet is equally good in her role and the children are fantastic, particularly Freddie Highmore who often steals the show with an amazingly strong performance for such a young lad (give this boy an Oscar!). The recreation of an Edwardian London through sets and costuming is exceptional and the seamless editing between Barrie’s real world and his fantasies is dazzling.Finding Neverland is a family movie with a strong focus on just that – the whole family. It has the power to ignite the imaginations of young children whilst reminding adults not to take life too seriously. It also tackles some very weighty life matters with a delivery that is gentle enough not to upset the younger audience but should encourage them to question the larger picture. Meanwhile, adults are likely to need a box of tissues on stand-by for this one.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.