Wednesday 9 January 2013

Finding Neverland (2004)

My friend Charlotte recommended me this movie, and I was especially glad as it meant my 2004 viewing wouldn't have to be 'Downfall', and so I've been looking for the time to watch it for a fortnight now, but things have kept looming up to put it off.  Anyway, I found myself agitated for no interesting reason on Saturday, and needed some cheering up, and reasoned that any film that has a credit for Toby Jones as Mr Smee (an actor and role, however small, that always bring me joy) couldn't help but gladden me.  As it was, 'Finding Neverland' made me happy, but then made me sad again, and though I anticipated it bringing me back up to happy at the end, it confounded my expectations, leaving me both.

This is the story of how J. M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan, a writer, play and character who've had my attention of late.  I recently read a lengthy piece on why Peter Pan is a played by a woman - a chapter which I must say came to some extraordinary conclusions - so this recommendation was fortuitously timed.  J.M. Barrie was a fascinating fellow, and I like to think I share his capacity for turning up in a hat.

J.M. Barrie dressing up, and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
(sadly not so)

This film manages to be three things: first, a story about the children who inspired Peter Pan and his fellows, secondly, it's a story about writing and staging a play - always exciting and terrifying to watch if you've written plays or acted on stage, and finally (unless I've missed one) it's a romance, though a slightly unusual one, between J.M. Barrie and the Davies family.

The heart of the story is a touch comparable to 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947).  A single mother (Kate Winslet on this occasion) is struggling (as single mothers do in the movies) to raise a child who doesn't know how to use their imagination - at which point a charismatic champion of the imagination arrives, tries to teach the child how to enjoy their childhood, and in general aims to make all well, with mixed results.  The child at the centre is Peter, who shows great potential but needs to be encouraged greatly to delight in his imagination.  There is also his brother Michael, who grows up; for J.M., this was always something of a tragedy.  History records more Davies children than just these two, but if they were in the film they made themselves anonymous.

The romance between J.M. (is this really how people addressed him) and Sylvia, which more accurately is a great love of the whole family, is an intriguing thing.  It's denied with some frequency, and for a while it seems he's just a family friend very generous with his time.  In an effort to make J.M.'s actions a little less adulterous, the film goes out of its way to make his wife Mary as loveless, unimaginative and mercenary as possible, so we're obviously meant to boo her and cheer on J.M.'s move into the Davies family.  It turns out quite well for everyone, and Mary has an affair of her own, which pretty much legitimises J.M.'s antics, though too late, as Sylvia has a cough, which in cinema as in life means she will surely die.

Magnificently stylised special effects live in the imagination of us all

I finally got myself a kilt this week, after some years of yearning.  Having listened twice to 'Donald Where's Your Troosers' to get myself in kilt-wearing mood, I thought it a pity that none of the films put to me seemed in any way Scottish - and I particularly didn't want to watch 'Brigadoon' (1954) - so I was pleasantly surprised to discover, when watching 'Finding Neverland', that J.M. Barrie was very much Scottish (though, despite a certain flair, he never affects Highland dress).  It may have been the fact that he is played here by the American and generally magnificent Johnny Depp that made this seem unlikely, but the man has a way with voices as he has with faces.  Even more than Michael Sheen, he manages to remain obviously the same person on the inside while exuding full other characters out through his face and mouth.  Perhaps I just mean that he's a good actor, but I think he's probably something else as well.  Like Peter Pan or Michael Jackson, he seems to exist between, or without, age, race or gender.

I feel I'm trailing off rather here - there's nothing very exciting to note about the other performances, which were fine and dandy.  Freddie Highmore, playing Peter, went on to be Charlie Bucket in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' (2005), a film that only I enjoyed; Toby Jones (Smee turned out to be a very small role here, but all enjoyable) has continued to pop up in many things I'm glad to watch; Kate Winslet I haven't seen in anything more recent - I'm not a great fan of her stylings (she was terrible in 'Dark Season' (1990), but it was her first TV so it's to be expected), but she's very likeable here, her exit proving suitably beautiful and upsetting.  Director Marc Forster went on to make differently-popular Bond-film 'Quantum of Solace' (2008), and Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's wholly agreeable score to this film won an Oscar, so there's a happy ending on that front.  For the story and the main character, the unusual effects for Neverland, and the elation of imagination, I commend the film.

P.S. The next blog will regard 'Laurel and Hardy Way Out West' (1937), and the next film I watch might be 'Na Srebrnym Globie' (1987) but I'd sooner it was 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back' (1998)

It's a pleasing and interesting film, and I may revisit it soon to grasp it better.  Oh, but perhaps you haven't seen it?

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