Finding Neverland (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner25/10/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

Imaginatively directed, beautifully written and superbly acted, this is an inventive, moving, utterly captivating film that stands a good chance of being one of this year’s Oscar contenders.

Hot on the heels of last year’s live action version of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan comes Finding Neverland, the story of how Barrie was inspired to write the play that would make him famous throughout the world. Directed by Marc Forster (who made Monster’s Ball), the film features terrific performances from its entire cast and, if there’s any justice at all, it deserves to feature prominently at next year’s Oscars.

Opens To Dismal Failure

Set in Edwardian London, Finding Neverland stars Johnny Depp as Scottish playwright James Matthew Barrie. As the film opens, Barrie is witnessing the dismal failure of his latest play, in an amusing scene with a lovely cameo by Mackenzie Crook.

Frustrated and suffering from writer’s block, Barrie takes refuge in his daily walks in the park with his St Bernard, Porthos. It’s there that he first meets the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four sons (including Freddie Highmore and the suspiciously named Joe Prospero).

Inspired by the boys’ imaginative role-play adventures, Barrie spends more and more time with the family, earning the disapproval of both his wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell) and Sylvia’s high society mother, Mrs Du Maurier (Julie Christie) in the process.

If they gave Oscars to casting directors then whoever cast Finding Neverland would win hands-down, because Johnny Depp is the ideal choice for playwright J.M. Barrie. His youthful-looking face, combined with a certain child-like quality in his personality lend themselves perfectly to his portrayal of the man who created the boy who never grew up.

Kate Winslet is heart-breakingly good as Sylvia – her scenes towards the end will have you pretending there’s something in your eye and her Cough Of Death scene is particularly shocking. There’s also strong support from Julie Christie and Radha Mitchell as well as Dustin Hoffman and Ian Hart, who is sadly wasted as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, the stand-out performance belongs to Freddie Highmore (from Five Children & It), who gives a terrifically mature, emotional performance as Peter, a small boy who has had to grow up too fast.

Much To Enjoy

There’s an awful lot to enjoy in the film, particularly in the way that David Magee’s excellent script scatters little details (a tinkling bell, a coathook, a throwaway line about cannibals) that will eventually be incorporated into Peter Pan. Forster also stages the fantasy scenes brilliantly, so that they seem like scenes of a stage play: a particular highlight involves the children bouncing on their beds and suddenly “flying”.

The camerawork is equally imaginative – there’s a terrific scene where Barrie demands that a group of orphans be allowed into the theatre and the camera darts around the audience as Peter Pan is performed for first time, capturing the sense of wonder on their faces, a sense that is gradually transferred to the adults in the audience too. Although a few too many dramatic liberties are taken for Finding Neverland to qualify as an actual biopic, it works beautifully as both a three-hankie weepie and a celebration of the creative power of the imagination. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable drama that is both heart-breaking and uplifting. Highly recommended.

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Finding Neverland (PG)
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Content updated: 17/12/2017 21:27

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