Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by:David Magee
Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Rhada Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman
Released: January 1, 2005
Grade: A

Seldom do I lose track of time in movies but Finding Neverland managed to sweep me away.  The film began and in the blink of an eye, the closing credits were rolling.  It isn’t an intricate story nor a complicated one.  In fact, you’d say it’s very predictable.  What it does have though, is a heart.  I seen this kind of story many-a-time before but director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and screenwriter David Magee tell it with simplicity and elegance.  Audience members will leave with tissues in hand.

Finding Neverland is an account of how author James M. Barrie came to craft one of the most famous stories of the modern era – Peter Pan.  Before doing so though, Barrie (Depp) was struggling as a writer.  His last play, financed by the wealthy Charles Frohman (Hoffman), was poorly received by both the critics and the general public.  James’ marriage to wife Mary (Mitchell) was also in decline.  James avoided the growing distance between them by spending more time at the theatre or writing in the park.

It was there on a park bench where Barrie first met Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Winslet), a widow with four young sons.  The two soon found comfort in each other’s friendships.  Barrie’s interaction with the children brought out his own “inner child” and with it the inspiration for a fantastical children’s tale.  For Sylvia, James’s fun-loving nature helped her children overcome the grief of a lost father.

Invariably, such a close friendship cannot continue without harm falling upon others.  A friend warns James that “you should be aware of what some people have been saying.”  The talk is that Barrie has been spending more time with Sylvia than with his own wife.  Sylvia’s exceedingly protective mother, Emma (Christie), strongly advises James to keep away.  The arrival of sad news though will only strengthen James and Sylvia’s bond as they fight to maintain their short glimpse of happiness. 

Finding Neverland is a very moving film played out by a wonderful cast.  The talented Johnny Depp is near perfect in the leading role.  Depp allows us to see two sides to James Barrie – one as a restrained artist filled with self doubt – the other as gifted playwright unafraid to be himself.  The ageless Julie Christie is equally impressive as Sylvia’s mother and I enjoyed her dialogue above the rest of the cast.

I can’t also pass without mentioning another top performance from a young actor.  Freddie Highmore may be only 12 years of age but will melt any audience member’s heart.  Funnily enough, Highmore and Depp have just completed a second film together – Depp plays Willy Wonka and Highmore plays Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton’s remake of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory to be released next July.  Believe it or not, Depp and Highmore even share the same birthday!

It’s early in the Oscar chase but Finding Neverland is already generating some strong heat.  The National Board of Review kick started the award season by crowning it the year’s best film.  The plot development may be a touch conventional but Finding Neverland still leaves an emotional impression.