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:: Finding Neverland

Truth is sometimes more disturbing than fiction, which is perhaps why it’s best to regard Mark Forster’s new film Finding Neverland as a wondrous fairytale, rather than condemn it for distorting history.

Adapted from Allan Knee’s stage play, “The Boy Who Was Peter Pan” by David Mcgee, Finding Neverland explores the birth of Peter Pan, one of the most well-loved children’s’ stories of all time, through emphatically rose-coloured glasses.

Perhaps this is for the best. Who would want to watch the biopic of a 1.5m tall almost certainly impotent man, a man that allegedly falsified a dying woman’s will to gain guardianship of her boys – his greatest friends? No, the real JM Barrie sounds at the worst sinister and at the best…strange.

Give me Johnny Depp’s Barrie any day, understatedly handsome, kind and with a touch of his role in The Pirates of The Caribbean left in him that only comes out in play. Add a reason for the source of his devotion to the Du Maurier boys – their lively and beautiful but ailing mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). Explore an idyllic summer of games, picnics, and Cowboys and Indians between a simpatico group: Depp, Winslet, the four Du Maurier boys and a dog. It’s thrilling to witness the birth of such a well-loved story.

As for the barriers to their union, Barrie’s wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) is a shallow social climber whose elegant costume is the best thing about her. In the film, of course, not in history, as is the disapproval of Sylvia’s mother (Julie Christie).

The several segues into magical landscape recall those of Heavenly Creatures (1995) but are smoother, and without the darkness of that film. The costuming and set design recreate Edwardian London, with Mitchell and Winslet’s dresses being particularly exquisite. Accents are appropriate, although Depp’s Scottish burr is not entirely convincing. Despite this he deserves his Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

This Barrie selflessly shares his creative wisdom with the youngest boy, Peter (impressively portrayed by Freddie Highmore) – a current sceptic and future writer. This Barrie inspires Sylvia’s crotchety mother to clap her hands and say, “I believe in fairies”. This Barrie is the kind of man we want all great artists to be: generous with their time; emotionally intelligent; eccentric but normal. A man we can understand. But how many great artists truly are like that? Maybe some of them are like the real Barrie. But I don’t care: I want to believe.

Finding Neverland is now screening on general release