Finding Neverland is a 2004 historical fantasy drama film based on Allan Knee’s play ‘The Man Who Was Peter Pan’. Directed by Marc Foster best known for films such as ‘Quantum of Solace’ and ‘Machine Gun Preacher’, the movie centres on a playwright in J.M Barrie (Johnny Depp) and the ups and downs of his relationship with a family who gave him the inspiration to create the character of Peter Pan.
Right from the very beginning, the movie establishes Barrie as the main character in the quickest but the surest way and I loved it; he is a man who is worried about the opening of one of his plays and how much of a disaster it might possibly be. It’s as though he knew that his career was on the rocks and that the more he messed up with his work and got bad reviews, the more he’d be falling into an abyss of rejection and disappointment from others that he might not get out of. His fears do indeed come to fruition at least for that particular night but he is relatively unfazed by it. ‘On to the next one’ was the vibe I got from Johnny Depp’s character and thus from that point in the movie’s runtime, I was drawn to the predicament that Barrie was in and I was interested in knowing how he planned to redeem himself, to redeem his name.
His path to redemption does come in form of a family of four boys as well as their mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and their first meeting proved to be a taste of good things to come. On one hand, there is this family that is still reeling from the loss of their breadwinner after he died of a terminal illness and on the other hand, we have this man who was evidently a shadow of his former glory and is need of inspiration to keep his playwright fire burning. I bought how seamless the establishment of the two parties’ relationship was because both of them had a void within them that needed to be filled and the fact that their coming together was inadvertent, it made the whole thing more of an “it was meant to be” type of situation.
More often than not, if you were caught up in the situation that Barrie and Sylvia are in then you’d probably face opposition from a select people who are close to you and the case here is no different. Barrie has a wife who is obviously pained by his new engagements with this family and Sylvia has an authoritative mother who still bosses her and warns her against what she is gradually getting herself into with the coming of Depp’s character. It was inviting to see both Barrie and Sylvia’s struggles beyond their daily meetings when they had to face the harsh reality of disapproval from their respective nay-sayers.
Staying on Sylvia, her portrayal by Kate Winslet was nothing short of magical. Through her mannerisms and how welcoming she was to Barrie, I got a sense of how helpless she was as a mother in raising these four boys who occasionally fight each other with Peter (Freddie Highmore) coming out the worst given he is the youngest. The lads needed moral straightening in addition to emotional guidance that only a male figure could provide at that time. Barrie being able to deliver in all the latter aspects, meant that his presence was a blessing to Sylvia who, in another life, would have probably wanted out on the playwright’s advances on the household.
Charles, played subtly but effectively by Dustin Hoffman is a character I particularly wasn’t invested in but I understood his role as a sponsor of Barrie’s creative works. Although he doesn’t show it in an outspoken fashion, he is disappointed in the recent failure of Depp’s character but isn’t ready to let go of him; he knows how talented he can be given the right push and thus his initiative aimed towards bringing the best out of the artist made me like him considerably.
The Premise, Merits and Demerits.
I used to read a lot of Peter Pan growing up and he is undoubtedly one of my favourite fantasy-fiction characters of all time, alongside the likes of Harry Potter of course. My interest was solely focused on Peter and his adventures along with his compatriots in Neverland but I never really cared about how the idea of this wonderful story came into being. Yes, Allan knee’s play might have been great and I respect it a lot notwithstanding, I am not into plays; I prefer such stories be told in front of a camera in different locations and therefore I’d give more credit to Marc Foster’s efforts on here as the director.
The tone of the flick is so rich and has an incredible relatability to it. The plot is progressive; there is no scene from the beginning, middle and end that felt out of place or out of touch. They superbly took me through the journey of the characters more so J.M Barrie and the emotionality of his relationship with Sylvia’s boys, Peter in particular. In spite of Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet’s astronomical performances in this film, I was more intrigued by the performances of the young actors both in dialogue and in action; it’s quite praiseworthy to feel how engrossed and dedicated they were in the story’s delivery. The production design is perfect; the various locations particularly the park where the playwright met Sylvia’s family and the theatre where the main character’s plays were being staged had an inclusivity to them and did good justice to the narrative.
That said, I have a few bones to pick with this movie, two actually. Barrie’s wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) wasn’t utilized to the fullest; having her harass Sylvia’s family and make their lives as miserable as possible when Depp’s character wasn’t with them would have made for a great subplot that I would have wanted to see. She had the making of a perfect villain and hence the movie not going that route with her felt like a missed opportunity. Lastly, the film could have been better if it had a more dominant score to illuminate certain scenes where the emotions of an audience member might have been running high; the scenes where the audience member is most invested in the characters and their fixes.
The story of Finding Neverland is as much what I wanted it to be before I saw it as it was in its eventuality and I am pleased by that. When you have Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet at the helm of a motion-picture then you know it’s probably going to be something interesting despite the material they are working with. Admittedly, the film did have an impact on me and how I view the blended family dynamic as well as the tale of a boy who never grew old and it was enough of an impact to warrant a re-watch or two in the foreseeable future.