Imagination is truly at work in Finding Neverland. Not only are we dealing with the fantastical story of Peter Pan — that never-grow-up ideal life we think we’d all love to live — the film also brings us an intriguingly imagined account of how the classic tale may have been created.
With enough touch-points from the real life of writer J.M. Barrie, the film paints a believable portrait of the creative genius and his life in Edwardian England. The screenplay is adapted by David Magee from Allan Knee’s stage play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan, described as “an imaginary series of conversations between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys.”
This incarnation of the story on film is visually stunning and emotionally captivating. We see Barrie as a playwright struggling with not-so-successful shows, a troubled marriage, and the trials of finding creative inspiration.
Ever the maverick, Barrie is not content to rest on the laurels of his past success — and he’s a bit unnerved that his current play may actually be a flop. As a result, he faces the challenge of every creative soul who wants to discover and expose a vision that is uniquely their own.
A maverick in his own right, Johnny Depp brings a quiet, understated, and nuanced performance to the role of J. M. Barrie. As in his choice of other film and television roles, Depp’s eclectic portrayal enhances Barrie’s struggle and ultimate outcome.
We also see the multiple layers of relationships in Barrie’s life: his theatrical producer may not be able to afford to take a chance on a “children’s” play; his wife’s interest in her social position doesn’t mesh with Barrie’s creative need for inspiration and playfulness; the coincidental meeting-in-the-park of the Llewelyn Davies family (a recent widow and her four boys) that sparks Barrie’s imagination and emotion — and that plays out unexpectedly over time.
In the context of the creative process leading to the Peter Pan story, we’re also asked to wonder what it means to “really believe” in something and how we can keep our own imagination alive.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Marc Forster
Theatrical release: 2004; available on DVD
Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos