"Finding Neverland" is a deeply moving, poetic film, based on the life of Scottish playwright and novelist James Matthew Barrie, and adapted from Allan Knee's play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan." It is a fictional account of how Barrie came to write "Peter Pan," which has long been a beloved children's classic symbolizing everlasting youth.
Johnny Depp gives an unusually understated, sensitive performance as J. M. Barrie, who is facing a crisis in life. His latest play is not receiving accolades, and his marriage has grown cold and sterile. He meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, (Kate Winslet), a widowed mother of four sons, and immediately hits it off with her boys - played by Joe Prospero, Nicholas Roud, Luke Spill, and the extremely gifted Freddie Highmore as Peter. Although he is friendly with Sylvia, it is with the children that he is able to take-off on glorious flights of imagination. And the five of them soar. Their back-yard games transform into fantasy imagery. They're flying!! The results are remarkable scenes played out as adventures, veritable fetes of daring. He and the boys act as pirates sailing the Spanish Main, cowboys and "red Indians" riding the plains of the old West.
In reality, however, this is Edwardian England, not the Wild West, and Barrie's friend Arthur Conan Doyle, (Ian Hart), warns him of vicious gossip about his "unseemly" interest in the family. Barrie responds with disgust. As he becomes increasingly involved with the boys, tension escalates between him and his upper-class wife, Mary, (Radha Mitchell). Sylvia's mother, Emma (Julie Christie), also lifts a questioning brow, wondering why on earth a grown man would spend so much time with children, and someone else's to boot!
Barrie's deep feelings for Sylvia and her boys are genuine. A decent man, he never had kids of his own, nor did he have much of a childhood. Complex and creative, emotionally immature with a brilliant mind, he carves out a realm for himself with the Davies family, his own Neverland of sorts. He lavishes them with affection, gifts, and tons of energy as he enacts, with them all, his inspired games. His poignant longing for the childhood he missed is evident. For me, Barrie epitomizes the "lost boy." The children, in turn, love him back and gift him with the inspiration for his haunting tale of Peter Pan, the youth who refuses to grow up. In David Magee's screenplay, Sylvia is the female figure in Barrie's fantasies - like a Wendy - more maternal than wifely.
Sorrow and loss lie just over the horizon from this world of fantasy and delight, but I will keep them at bay here. Let it suffice to say that some dark themes are explored. Director Marc Forster has delivered a fine period piece, with amazing sets and costume design. The acting is superb. Johnny Depp imbues the film with a sense of wonder. Ultimately, "Finding Neverland" is about holding on to the all the magical aspects of childhood and keeping the imagination alive. This movie touched me deeply. PS - bring some extra tissues along.