The Johnny Depp Archive

Finding Neverland (2004)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Freddie Highmore, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman

Directed by: Marc Forster

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Johnny Depp as JM Barrie and Freddie Highmore as Peter

Oh the cleverness of Johnny! After turning in a gloriously OTT, Oscar nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, totally stealing the show as Agent Sands in Once Upon A Time In Mexico and transforming a standard Stephen King thriller into a nail-biting psychofest in Secret Window, he's now back. and his new role couldn't be more different, or more wonderful.

In Finding Neverland, Depp plays Peter Pan author JM Barrie. A quiet, mild-mannered, retiring man (the very antithesis of Jack Sparrow, then), he's reached a crisis in his life. His latest play has bombed big time and his childless marriage is clearly deteriorating, he and wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) treating each other like polite but distant strangers, and sleeping in separate rooms.

And then one day when out walking in the park, he meets the Llewellyn-Davies family: four high-spirited boys (or three high-spirited boys plus the weird one) and their beautiful, practical, loving mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). And the weird one? That, of course, would be Peter (Freddie Highmore).

Avast me hearties... JM Barrie (Johnny Depp) with the Llewellyn-Davies family

Lonely and clearly at a bit of a loose end, Barrie finds in the warm, affectionate and exuberant family everything that is missing from his cold, loveless marriage. With his boundless, childlike imagination and intuitive understanding of what makes small boys tick, he soon becomes a firm fixture at their home and their carefree summer together inspires the play that would make Barrie's name immortal: Peter Pan.

But this is 1903, remember, and married men are not supposed to cavort about with widows and their children. Tongues are soon set wagging, and Sylvia's fiercely protective mother (Julie Christie, looking utterly beautiful) is not about to see her daughter's reputation tarnished irreparably. How will it all turn out? Tragically, as it happens, although, without wishing to give anything away, it becomes clear pretty quickly which one of the characters is going to embark on an awfully big adventure before the film is over.

Kate Winslet as Sylvia and Johnny Depp as JM Barrie in Finding Neverland

The theme of the film is that in order to make something happen, you have to believe in it. But as the opening credits rolled, I wondered how easy I would find it to believe. Johnny with a Scottish accent? Dodgy child actors? Kate Winslett.? Relax. Before you know it, you are swept away into Barrie's magical world of the imagination, where bears dance, dogs do housework and little boys never grow up. Oh, and Johnny gets to be a pirate again.

Much has been made of the fact that Depp, with his eternally youthful good looks and boundless enthusiasm for his work and family, is a bit of Peter Pan himself. And certainly he makes an excellent job of playing his creator, giving a restrained, finely nuanced and generous performance that knows when to retire into the background and let other characters shine. And yes, his accent is remarkably convincing: soft, elegant and not a hint of Rab C Nesbitt to be heard.

Johnny Depp as JM Barrie

Kate Winslet (one of those actresses, like Helena Bonham Carter and Alex Kingston, who looks completely at home in period dress) is perfectly cast as Sylvia, whilst little Freddie Highmore is a delight as Peter. With his big grey eyes and slightly alien aura of otherworldly innocence, there's definitely something of the Haley Joel Osment about him. I can't wait to see him as Charlie opposite Johnny's Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's forthcoming adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

And speaking of Burton, there's definitely something Big Fishy about Finding Neverland, fantasy and reality, imagination and staged theatricality blending seamlessly to create a magical, heart warming and unforgettable film. Admittedly, the film does play fast and loose with the real Barrie story (in real life JM was apparently a geeky little man with a nasty moustache - thank God nobody told Johnny that. He probably didn't wear eyeliner either...) But, like that other wonderful film 'inspired by a true story', Amadeus, whilst it may not always be factually accurate, it's utterly true to the spirit of the man.

If PJ Hogan's Peter Pan didn't convince you to believe in fairies, well, Finding Neverland just might.

  • Share on Tumblr