Finding Neverland

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(2004) ★★★

BBC2: Tuesday 29 December, 5.55pm

Johnny Depp adopts a soft Scots burr as playwright J.M. Barrie, whose new work Little Mary opens like tumbleweed in London in 1903. Exercising his big fluffy dog, Depp looks on as four young brothers play in the park with their mother. Recently widowed Kate Winslet has been left with four sons, a double-barrelled name and no income to speak of. Big house and garden, mind. Depp becomes the family’s playmate and the boys’ champion: “Young boys should never be sent to bed – they always wake up a day older.” Winslet’s mother Julie Christie thinks this is a bit rum. So does Depp’s wife Radha Mitchell, who sleeps alone.

The Newfoundland shares Depp’s bed. Producer Dustin Hoffman has every faith in his playwright and, inspired by the fatherless family he’s drifted into, Depp dreams up Peter Pan. “It’s crocodiles and fairies, pirates and Indians,” muses Hoffman, perusing the cast list. “You’re out of your mind.” Accomplished young Freddie Highmore is Peter, the one who’s reluctant to join in. He’s still grieving his father.

Nick Roud is also fine as Peter’s big brother George. This is a handsome picture, if a mite stilted (it’s adapted from a stage play). Its themes of imagination and belief, distractions and denial, return again and again to the central conceit of pretence. Jan Kaczmarek’s music won an Oscar, which is suprising (it’s a bit prissy). All the acting is good, but what’s priceless in the end is the simple look of wonder on the children’s faces in the opening night audience.

Certificate: PG
Duration: 96min

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