Inspiration is something that many of us seek, but that is often difficult to recognize. For playwright J M Barry, however, inspiration was something that was found in the most surprising of places; within his own everyday life. Through its portrayal of the creative process that led to the creation of Barry’s Peter Pan, the 2004 drama Finding Neverland pays apt tribute to the creative spirit and reminds us all that inspiration lies around every corner if we only allow ourselves to see it. At once a biography, a behind the scenes peek at the making of a classic, and a heartfelt drama the film illustrates all the ways in which life fuels art while art in turn elevates life.
|Amazing what a little pixie dust can do|
The story begins in turn of the century London as struggling playwright Barry copes with the critical and commercial failure of his latest production. Dogged by pressure from skeptical producers and his wife’s nagging demands, Barry finds release in his budding friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family after making their acquaintance in a local park. When they first meet Barry the family, made up of widowed mother, Sylvia, and her three sons George, Peter, and Michael are still reeling from the recent loss of Sylvia’s husband and the boys’ father to cancer. Over time, however, they eventually welcome ‘Uncle Jim’ as a surrogate member of the family, much to the chagrin of Sylvia’s controlling mother and Barry’s neglected wife, Mary. The unusual relationship soon sparks controversy as the playwright’s motives along with his and Sylvia’s behavior are called into question. In spite of the rumors, however, the friendship continues to blossom as Barry reminds the grieving family of the joys of living while they in turn inspire his greatest work.
The film truly soars thanks to the exemplary performances of its talented cast. Rahda Mitchell captures the frustrations of Mary Barry in a way that ensures audiences will sympathize with her. Julie Christie is a force to be reckoned but infuses her role with underlying vulnerability as Sylvia’s domineering mother, Emma. Dustin Hoffman is engaging in his portrayal of cynical producer Charles Frohman. Nick Roud aptly captures George’s struggle to hold onto his childhood even as he takes on the role of ‘man of the house’. Luke Spill is charming in his sweet but never cloying performance as Michael. Freddie Highmore is brilliant in his portrait of grief as he conveys the inner torment of middle sibling Peter. Kate Winslet imbues her Sylvia with a warmth and quiet strength that leaves little wonder as to why Barry finds solace and inspiration in her company. Even while surrounded by an outstanding cast the film belongs to Depp who portrays the enigmatic Barry as a contagiously charming child at heart.
|The moments that dreams are made of|
The film’s portrait of the man behind the boy who never grew up serves as both a fascinating biography and an homage to the masterpiece that has captivated generations. The film deftly tells its story on two levels by showing how events unfolded in the real world while simultaneously providing insight into how these events found their way into Barry’s work. The film wisely maintains a firm focus upon the events leading up to the creation and successful production of Peter Pan which adds an immediacy and urgency to the script that many traditional biographical films lack. In this way, the story becomes an exploration of Barry’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family rather than a mere account of his life. This structure in turn allows the relationships between the characters time to develop in a way that most biographies, which chronicle a series of events over the course of several years cannot. As a result, the film is equally engaging as both a journey into the creation of a masterpiece and a tribute to the magic that still has us searching for Neverland.
Through its portrayal of the tragedy and triumph that lead to the creation of Peter Pan, Finding Neverland is an apt tribute to the creative spirit. With its superb script and excellent performances the firm brings the story behind the story of Peter Pan to vibrant life. One viewing of this film will leave viewers wanting to visit Neverland again and again.