In a queer twist of events, Finding Neverland opens to land Johnny Depp his second Oscar nomination, but wait, Finding Neverland was shot even before Pirates of the Caribbean (which won him his first nomination) sealed Johnny Depp’s well deserved hot spot in Hollywood. Would Finding Neverland have gained the same response had Depp not swaggered his way into the mainstream?
Indeed, the film shows Depp in one of his most restrained roles, abandoning his quirk for donning scissors or outlandish pirate suits for a more clean-shaven, polite Edwardian persona as J.M. Barrie, the creator of wonder boy Peter Pan.
Based loosely on real events, Finding Neverland (check out the Widescreen Edition) charts Barrie’s journey into the heart of his inspiration for Peter Pan.
When we meet Barrie, his wintry marriage coupled with the failure of his plays has snuffed the light out of him, but not for long. A chance encounter with the Llewelyn Davies family, the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four sons, relights a fire in Barrie for… the four boys, especially Peter who’s played by the precocious Freddie Highmore who was then only 9 years old.
Depp and Highmore experienced such chemistry in here that the two will reunite on this year’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the true, chaste manner of fairy tales, Finding Neverland never hints at an illicit affair between Barrie and Sylvia, despite his courtly, boyish charms and her fragile beauty.
Skeptics would relate to Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie), Sylvia’s mother who frowns upon with suspicion on Barrie’s besetment with Sylvia’s children. Historians would point out the film’s historical inaccuracies: there were 5 children, not 4, and Sylvia’s husband had not passed away when Barrie met the family. The rest of us will simply be enthralled by this curious tale behind one of our childhood’s greatest fairy tales.
While appearances seem to show that this is merely a glorious and soppy tale of relit passions and fulfilled aspirations, Depp’s subtle acting suggest a deeper side to Barrie, a complex inner life that hovers the fine thread between man and boy. As Barrie and the boys put up a special play for the dying Sylvia, perhaps Barrie experiences the pain of mortality and Neverland, the idea of eternal childhood, is merely the dream that keeps him going.