“It’s magical. Thank you.” So says Peter Llewelyn Davies to J.M. Barrie about his play Peter Pan. And so say I to the creators of Finding Neverland. This movie is a beautifully sweet and riotously funny look at the man behind the “irrepressible spirit of youth.”
Although he’s already a renowned playwright, Barrie’s latest creation is a flop. Then he meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her 4 fatherless boys. He finds himself drawn to them, especially Peter, in whom he sees perhaps a reflection of himself. He spends nearly every afternoon all summer with Sylvia, George, Jack, Peter, and Michael. They dress up and play pretend – pirates, explorers, cowboys and Indians. Uncle Jim, as the boys call Barrie, is really just a boy himself and he teaches them to soar on the wings of imagination.
Sylvia, beautifully portrayed by Kate Winslet, is a wonderful mother. Fun, loving, and perfectly imperfect, she is adored by her free-spirited sons. Each of the 4 boys is perfectly cast and wonderfully played. Genuine, authentic, innocent, and fun, they are a joy to watch, especially Freddie Highmore as Peter. Johnny Depp, as always, is magnificent. He so totally inhabits his role, it becomes difficult to remember that he’s ever played any other character. His James Barrie is fun, creative, imaginative, cheerful, innocent – in short, the total opposite of the story’s 2 stuffed shirts. Mrs. Barrie is a shallow, self-centered creature who married James because he is a famous author, not for love. Their marriage is therefore rather strained. The other disagreeable character is Sylvia’s mother, Mrs. Du Maurier (superbly portrayed by Julie Christie). The friction between her and James, however, does not stem from self-centeredness, but rather from love of her daughter and grandsons. It is this capacity for love that, in the end, turns her into a sympathetic figure. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Barrie’s producer, Charles Frohman. His dry humor and wit is unmatched.