tek's rating:

Finding Neverland (PG)
Chasing the Frog; IMDb; Miramax; Neverpedia; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; iTunes; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 2004, but I didn't see it until 2017. It's based on the 1998 play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan," which I've never seen, and was adapted into a musical in 2012 (also called "Finding Neverland"), which I've also never seen. The film was inspired by real events, though I'm not really sure how much it's fictionalized.

It begins in 1903, with the release of J.M. Barrie's play, "Little Mary," which apparently does quite poorly with both audiences and critics. Which wasn't a huge problem for James Barrie, financially, since he was already a famous and successful playwright. The film makes it seem like a bigger problem for theatrical producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman), though I don't really think it was too bad for him, either. Anyway, James starts spending time in the park to write his next play. There he meets a widow named Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), and her sons, Peter (Freddie Highmore), George, Jack, and Michael. James develops a friendship with Sylvia and the boys, though naturally in that era it was a bit scandalous. Not that there was anything inappropriate going on at all, but you know how people will talk. And of course James's wife, Mary, wasn't at all happy about it. But for most of the movie, it was hard to understand why she and James were even together in the first place, since they seemed incompatible on every level. And Sylvia seemed much more compatible, more open to James's "never grown up" flights of imagination. But I will say that later in the movie, I did develop some sympathy for Mary. I also need to mention that Sylvia's mother, Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie), was more upset by her daughter's friendship with James than anyone, and would try to put an end to it. But, by the end of the movie she seemed nicer, too. (But before that, one of the funniest parts of the movie, in my mind, was a scene where a glimpse of her obviously inspired the creation of Captain Hook.)

Anyway... gosh, it's hard to say how much I should tell you about the plot. Um... of course, the time James spends with the Llewelyn Davies family inspires him to write what would become his most enduring play, "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Never Grew Up." Which, I must say, seemed crazy, on the page. With hindsight, it's hard to imagine anyone not recognizing the story's greatness, but of course before the play was performed for the first time, it does rather make sense that no one would really get it. (I really don't know much about the state of theater at the dawn of the 20th century, but I can totally believe a story like "Peter Pan" would bear little or no resemblance to anything people had seen before... or had performed in, for that matter.) We do get to see a bit of the preparation for the play (and later on, a bit of the first official performance; later still, an even more magical private performance). Mainly this includes an actor who has to play the dog, Nana, and certainly I felt sympathy for him (while also finding it funny). Though I think the only one of the actors from the play-within-the-movie whom I recognized from anything else was the one playing Smee (Toby Jones). And... there are other things going on in the movie. Like, Peter was obviously the most important of Sylvia's sons, to the story. He was having an especially hard time dealing with his father's death. Also, James soon recognized him as an aspiring writer who had zero confidence in himself, so he began encouraging Peter to try writing in spite of his inhibitions. More importantly, it turns out that Sylvia has a serious illness she's been hiding from everyone. James, as well as Sylvia's children, become increasingly concerned about this, when they find out about it, but she still doesn't intend to do anything about it. She wants to go on pretending to the very end, claiming James was the one who brought pretending into their family (though I suspect she'd been doing so even before she met him).

And... well, I don't really want to say any more about the plot, or how it all ends. I mean, except of course that when the new play finally opens, it's a huge success. And it really was nice watching the kids in the audience enjoy it from the very start, and the adults only coming around more gradually. As for the movie itself, I thoroughly enjoyed all of its humor, drama, and fantastic elements. (Oh yes, we occasionally get to see what James is imagining, intercut with what's actually happening. I'm not sure if any of the other characters truly shared his vision to its full extent, even if they did learn to use their own imaginations more than they previously had. And I can't quite believe that even James himself saw things as vividly as we get to. But it was still kind of awesome.) Anyway... I'm not sure this is a movie I'll ever feel the need to watch again, but I'm very glad to have finally seen it.


based on a true story

Peter Pan
movies: Peter Pan (1953) * Hook * Return to Never Land * Peter Pan (2003) * Finding Neverland * Tinker Bell * Pan
TV: Neverland (2011) * Once Upon a Time * Peter Pan Live! * The New Adventures of Peter Pan