An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


          We have watched Peter Pan float through the windows of countless school plays.  We have watched him fly out of the wings and across the stage to enchant generations of audiences on Broadway, in movies, and in books.  For some, he is the boy who never grew up; for others, a spirit determined to believe of people and life that “the best of it can be found on every page of your imagination.”  What does all this say about Peter’s creator, J.M. Barrie?

        “Finding Neverland” is the story of seeds sown and nurtured in James Barrie through his friendship with a young widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four sons in London , 1903.  Mrs. Davies, trying to keep the family afloat, is forced to turn to her mother, the resentful, abrasive Emma  (Julie Christie).  It falls to Mr. Barrie to bring into this dark atmosphere his certainty that belief and hope can bring happiness.  If this sounds like a sentimental brew, think again.  It is magical in every respect.

          The production, breathtakingly beautiful, shows us with the greatest subtlety how real life turns to fiction in Barrie ’s imagination.  There is the second, just a second, no more, when the grandmother’s hand morphs into a hook as she reaches angrily for a door handle.  These fertile moments spring into Barrie ’s mind as the dire predicament of his dear friends calls out for hope.  Director Marc Forster makes genuine magic with David Magee’s  fine script based on Allan Knee’s play.  They spare nothing in bringing the period to life through landscape, architecture, and clothes.  It’s beautiful enough to erase the realist in us all.

          Dustin Hoffman, with new calm and caring in his eyes, plays Charles, a financial backer with the instincts of a believer and the tongue of a cynic.  In a transcendent moment near the end, Julie Christie , given a short moment of conversion, lights the theater with the smile of Dr. Zhivago’s Lara.   The amazing young actor Freddie Highmore, as Peter Llewelyn Davies, the model for Peter Pan, sees only the bleak reality of the life around him.  Helping Peter find his own imagination becomes Barrie ’s major goal in writing the play.       

          Johnny Depp, in a slightly oversized suit that emphasizes Barrie ’s vulnerability, is possibly the only actor who could carve so surely the timeless lesson of Barrie ’s Peter Pan – that we are too earnest, that we must play with what life gives us.    Everyone, he thinks, is trying to grow up too fast.  Barrie himself is propelled gently by his imagination, driven by a deeply emotional need to help his new friends.  With a unique touch, Johnny Depp manages to show us that whatever we want to believe is right there in our imagining of Neverland.  We can go there whenever we want.  James M. Barrie was a man who could see into the closely guarded hearts of young and old alike – if only they would listen.  “ ……..Listen, Peter.”



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