Directed by Marc Forster, starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Freddie Highmore, Dustin Hoffman, Radha Mitchell, Luke Spill, Joe Prospero and Nick Roud.
Johnny Depp is riding high at the moment. Fresh from being Oscar-nominated for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl', he has signed up for a sequel to that film and has also scooped the plum role of Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. And he doesn't blot his copybook any with 'Finding Neverland', a beautifully made and moving account of how Scottish author JM Barrie - played by Depp - came to write his masterpiece, 'Peter Pan'.
Set in Edwardian London, the film opens with Barrie at the opening of his latest play, which turns out to be a flop. Despite this fact, his producer, Charles Frohman (Hoffman, thoroughly enjoying himself in this cameo), commissions him to write a new one. While walking his dog in Kensington Gardens, Barrie becomes acquainted with the four Llewelyn Davies boys, particularly with the cynical Peter (Highmore), and their widowed mother Sylvia (Winslet). Bored with his old themes, he finds inspiration in their lively antics and imaginings. His childlike imagination allows him to enter into the spirit of their play and soon he is spending much of his free time with the family.
But there's opposition to this friendship, both from Barrie's increasingly alienated wife Mary (Mitchell, superb in this small role) and from Sylvia's steely mother Emma du Maurier (an aristocratic and still-beautiful Christie). London society is scandalised by the situation, not only the fact that Barrie is spending so much time with Sylvia but about his being so much in the company of the boys. But for the innocent Barrie, the power of imagination transcends the limitations of society as he throws himself into the Llewelyn Davies' family life and works on the play that will become his masterpiece - until tragedy intervenes.
With a superb script from first time screenwriter David Magee (complete with witty references to 'Peter Pan') and fluid direction from Marc Forster - best known for directing Halle Berry's Oscar-winning performance in 'Monster's Ball' - 'Finding Neverland' is a beautifully detailed and constructed film. Forster does stumble briefly when he tries to weave Barrie's real and imaginary worlds, but this is a minor flaw. Both script and director are well-served by their cast, in particular Johnny Depp's fantastic turn as Barrie, the man who, as young Peter Llewelyn Davies points out, is the real Peter Pan. Nor are the other roles disregarded, with Freddie Highmore putting in a touching performance and Kate Winslet, back in corsets once again, charming as the mildly harassed mother of four boisterous boys.
Endearing and inventive, 'Finding Neverland' is a bittersweet celebration of imagination and childish wonder.