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Finding Neverland (PG)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature commentary with director. The Magic of Finding Neverland. Creating Neverland. Deleted scenes. Outtakes. On the Red Carpet.

THE ever-youthful Johnny Depp provides another masterful turn as Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie, in the enchanting Finding Neverland, a genuinely moving look at what came to inspire one of the world's greatest children's novels.

Set in London, in 1903, the film picks up as Scottish playwright, Barrie (Depp), watches his latest play open to lukewarm reviews.

Hailed as a literary genius by the polite society of Edwardian England, but bored by his themes and stuck in a loveless marriage, Barrie yearns for some inspiration, which he unexpectedly finds one day while taking his daily walk in Kensington Gardens with his beloved St Bernard, Porthos.

It is here that he first encounters the Llewelyn Davies family - four fatherless boys and their beautiful, recently-widowed mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet).

Despite the disapproval of Sylvia's steely grandmother, Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie), and his own, increasingly distant wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), Barrie befriends the family and, through his games with the boys, transforms their imaginations, helping them to grow up and grieve for their father in the process.

His time with them also provides the spark for his own imagination and it's not long before he is busy penning his next play, Peter Pan, with the financial support of his sceptical producer, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman).

Yet while steeped in magical worlds and youthful innocence, Barrie's timeless tale is born out of great tragedy, especially when it becomes apparent that Sylvia is hiding her own illness from her children.

Finding Neverland, while only loosely based on true events, is a richly rewarding, emotional rollercoaster of a movie, that succeeds on just about every level it strives to achieve.

While shamefully manipulative during its latter stages, the film is so beautifully constructed and performed that you won't mind succumbing to its charms, as it bears all the hallmarks of a classic tear-jerker, while also proving tremendously uplifting to boot.

Director, Marc Forster (who previously helmed Halle Berry's Oscar-winner, Monster's Ball), neatly juggles the fantasy elements of the story with the tragedy that surrounds many of the characters, so that the film never feels heavy-handed or awkwardly sentimental.

As a result, viewers can relax and enjoy watching Barrie's imagination unfold, while keeping sight of the constant visual inspirations for the key roles in Peter Pan, as well as becoming invested in the grown-up material, as Barrie attempts to cope with his failing marriage, his growing feelings for Sylvia, and his emerging role as father-figure to the children.

Depp, as ever, is on mesmerising form, but he is capably supported by the likes of Winslet, Mitchell and Hoffman, not to mention young Freddie Highmore, who is something of a revelation as Peter, the quietest of Sylvia's sons, whose unspoken grief for his father has forced him to grow up too soon, thereby suppressing his early childhood.

Through his friendship with Barrie, Peter learns to unlock his imagination and rediscovers the innocence of youth, and it is thanks to Highmore's understated performance that their relationship works so well.

I doubt there will be a dry eye in the cinema by the time the film reaches its heartbreaking conclusion.

Forster, too, deserves praise for the way in which he captures the brilliance of Peter Pan, by injecting proceedings with several dream-like fantasy sequences that really do recall the wonder of Barrie's classic tale.

It serves to ensure that the film has something to offer all viewers and which really should feature prominently come the awards season.

It is a magical experience from start to finish.

 

 

 

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