Feature by: Jack Foley
THE makers of Finding Neverland will candidly admit that the
events depicted on film do not represent 'a factual re-telling
of what happened to James Barrie when he wrote Peter Pan'.
Notes screenwriter, David Magee: "I wanted to tell a story
about what it means to grow up and become responsible for those
"I hope people see the film as a respectful tribute to
Barrie's creative genius and come away with a feeling that as
human beings, we can grow up without losing all aspects of childhood
innocence and wonder."
The film certainly succeeds in doing that - but it also taps
into Barrie's well-documented yearning for a world in which playfulness
and whimsy would always triumph over seriousness and propriety.
In his memoir about his mother, for instance, he wrote: "Nothing
that happens after we are 12 matters very much."
Perhaps this is because the author himself had a chaotic and
interrupted childhood, which the film does allude to.
Born a weaver's son in Scotland in 1860, Barrie was forever shaken
by the death of his brilliant older brother, David, in a skating
accident when he was only six.
To comfort his grief-stricken mother, Barrie tried to take the
place of his 13-year-old sibling, even imitating his posture and
whistling habit - and wearing his brother's clothes.
Remarkably, Barrie claimed that as soon as he reached the age
at which his brother died (13), he himself stopped growing.
Not that this limbo seemed to affect his writing, given that
Barrie was part of a celebrated circle of writers, including Rudyard
Kipling, Thomas Hardy and HG Wells, who was considered one of
the leading intellectuals of his day, known for his biting satire
and sharp observations of a class-driven society.
However, Barrie always felt more comfortable around children
than adults, and his interest in other people's children has occasionally
been mis-interpreted in this post-Freudian world.
However, Michael Emrys, president of the JM Barrie Society, points
out that 'historians and biographers of Barrie agree that nothing
improper ever occurred'.
And the youngest of the Llewelyn Davies boys, Nico Davies, who
eventually came to live with Barrie and regard him as a father,
noted that 'he was an innocent - which is why he could write Peter
Finding Neverland explores the relationship
between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family, and how it came
to form the inspiration for his classic novel.
Yet, it does tinker with certain aspects of the timeline involved.
Barrie did, indeed, meet the family in London's Kensington Gardens,
with their nanny, Nancy Hodgson, while he was taking his daily
walk with his St Bernard, Porthos.
When he met them, however, there were only three boys - George
(5), Jack (4) and Peter (1). The two youngest boys, Michael and
Nico, were born later.
And it was only after befriending the children that he met their
mother, Sylvia, at a New Year's Eve party.
At the time, she was married to the lawyer, Arthur Llewelyn Davies,
yet in a bold breach of protocol, she welcomed Barrie into their
family home, allowing his friendship with the children to blossom.
Feeling betrayed by Barrie's love for another woman's children,
however, his own wife, Mary, began an affair with a writer friend,
Gilbert Cannan, eventually divorcing Barrie in 1909.
Although Barrie's play of Peter Pan was first performed in 1904,
he continued to revise and expand the story for a number of years,
during which a number of tragedies befell the Llewelyn Davies
In 1907, the boys' father, Arthur, died following an agonising
bout with cancer.
Although Arthur had been suspicious of Barrie at first, the two
men had become very close at the end and Barrie spent every day
at Arthur's bedside, comforting the children and Sylvia. He also
began to provide much of the family's financial support.
There is even some evidence that Barrie may have intended to
marry Sylvia after Arthur's death, but then she too was afflicted
by cancer, which she kept a secret from the boys to spare them
Sylvia died in 1910, six years after the premiere of Peter Pan,
but it is said that Barrie was working on the novel version of
the play, Peter and Wendy - which emphasises the heartbreaking
choice between worldly time and timelessness that Wendy is asked
to make - by Sylvia's bedside as she faded.
After her death, however, Barrie became the unofficial guardian
of the five Llewelyn Davies boys, then aged between seven and
Though he provided for them handsomely, their grown-up lives
were equally as fraught with tragedy.
George was killed in the trenches of World War One; Michael,
who hoped to be a writer, drowned at the age of 20 while studying
at Oxford; and Peter committed suicide at the age of 63, many
years after Barrie's death. None are alive today.
To find out more, visit www.jmbarrie.co.uk