Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Playing around with Peter Pan's Ghost; Kate Winslet Is Beautiful, Johnny Depp Believable. but the Magic Is Missing from JM Barrie's Life Story WILL SELF ON FILM

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Playing around with Peter Pan's Ghost; Kate Winslet Is Beautiful, Johnny Depp Believable. but the Magic Is Missing from JM Barrie's Life Story WILL SELF ON FILM

Article excerpt

Byline: WILL SELF

FINDING

NEVERLAND **

Cert PG, 101 mins

THIS felt like a pretty sweet film while I was watching it, but over the course of the day it left me with a slightly saccharine aftertaste.

But, then, it is a quasi-biopic of JM Barrie and unlike many perfectly acute people I know, I have never really responded to his Peter Pan in any of its incarnations, whether theatrical, prose or film.

As an adult, I can appreciate that while ostensibly a piece of neutered whimsy, like the best children's productions of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, PP is positively rife with sex and death.

As a child it just struck me as neutered whimsy: all those pirates, fairies and crocodiles, a nanny who is a dog, a juvenile lead in tights, the ossified class assumptions of its day. To me it had - still has - the repetitive motif of a nursery wallpaper, rather than the truly individual texture of the imagination.

I say quasi-biopic, but what Finding Neverland really is, is the filmofthe-writing-of-the-play; it's an investigation into the rites of the author's imagination and an examination of his working method.

It's bizarre quite how many films have been made about the creative process, many of them with a lofty sense of purpose, as if it were a forensic investigation for which the camera was a particularly adept tool. Sadly, this isn't the case.

At best the writing-of (or painting, or sculpting, or choreographing) films are quasi-biopics, and at worst they make their audiences into voyeurs witnessing a rather disgusting parasitism, as one big, youthful mass medium sucks the life out of another smaller, weaker and older.

At one end of the scale stands David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, about the writing of William Burroughs's dystopic novel, at the other is the cosmic silliness of Shakespeare in Love.

Marc Forster, whose Monster's Ball gave Halle Berry the last opportunity she'll probably ever have to play gritty, has made a writing-of film that just about avoids the bathetic pitfalls of the genre.

Yes, we do have Barrie dancing with his Newfoundland dog and the dog turning into a bear and he into the ring master of a harlequinade; and, yes, we do have a suburban garden transformed into a Neverland stocked with joblots of fairies; and, yes, Barrie does take notes in an annoyingly writerly fashion.

But somehow the writing-of-a-play does allow for this halfway house of the imagination; a dramatist, after all, is accustomed to conceiving of his mental creations as perceptible in a way that a novelist never is. And Johnny Depp makes a credible enough Barrie.

Like the author, Depp is small and slight - a boy-man if you will - and he manages the Scots brogue well enough. But there's nothing in his performance to hint at the steeliness the real Barrie must have possessed, rising as he did from a working-class Scots background to the dizzy heights of a baronetcy and the Order of Merit. …

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