Finding Neverland

J.M. Barrie used to associate with Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells. They were on a cricket club together. Three men, distinguished authors, who obsessed over a game. This is fitting, I think, because I can think of no other triumverate of writers who have had more of an effect on my own obsessions than this one. What would genre fiction be like without those guys? Would we have had the pulps, or movie serials, B-movies, science fiction, myteries, or any kind of adventure fiction at all? What would be left? Only serious literature. And who wants to live in that world?

Childish whimsy is at the heart of Finding Neverland, even though it is a very sad film. Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie. One day, while taking his enormous sheepdog for a walk in the park, he meets a quartet of imaginative and energetic young boys and their widowed mother. This is the Davies Family. The mother, Sylvia, who is played by Kate Winslet, lives with her offspring in genteel poverty. They have a house but no servants, a domineering grandmother in society, Mrs. Emma du Maurier played by Julie Christie, but no income. Barrie takes an interest in the family, leading the boys in games of make believe. He is also gathering material for his best known work.

This kind of relationship can’t help but attract unsavery rumors, some of which persist until this day (This story is based on real events.) But Barrie, ever a non-conformist, persists with the bond. Only when Mrs. du Maurier explains to him that he is preventing Sylvia from remarrying does he decide to stay away and to attend to his own failing marriage. But he is drawn back to the Davies again when Sylvia falls ill.

Finding Neverland is a wonderful movie. Depp, as usual, disappears into his role, using a flawless Irish accent to depict Barrie as whimsical, yet at the same time oddly reserved. He doesn’t chase about like a member of Monty Python; his flights of fancy are more subtle, but just as imaginative.

Kate Winslet deverves mention. She captures both the concern of a woman in a desparate situation, and the joy of a mother watching her children blossom. The children were excellent, especially Peter, a middle child, played by Freddie Highmore. The script is good, using fantasy sequences to illustrate Barrie’s imaginary concoctions. The cinematography finds Neverland in ordinary London with bright colors and swooping camera moves.

This movie flies like the imagination it celebrates, like Peter Pan, tossing his arm forward and leaping out the bedroom window, followed by the Darling children. And even though the ending is very sad, you will leave uplifted.


2 Responses to “Finding Neverland”

  1. 1 boodlesbaloney February 6, 2005 at 4:21 am

    I agree, Depp portrayed his character with a flawless Irish accent.  Unfortunately Barrie was SCOTTISH.

  2. 2 cebert2 February 6, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    Ah, I was hoping nobody would notice that.  If you'll notice I did correct it in my review of The Aviator.

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