Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA/United Kingdom, 2004. Miramax, FilmColony, Keylight Productions. Screenplay by David Magee, based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. Cinematography by Roberto Schaefer. Produced by Nellie Bellflower, Richard N. Gladstein. Music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Production Design by Gemma Jackson. Costume Design by Alexandra Byrne. Film Editing by Matt Chesse. Academy Awards 2004. Golden Globe Awards 2004. Screen Actors Guild Awards 2004.
Following the abysmal failure of his play Little Mary, Irish playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) finds himself wandering around London with his giant pet dog in search of inspiration for something better. He comes upon a charming family of four boys and their beautiful mother (Kate Winslet) while resting on a park bench one day, and from then on becomes their playmate and her confidante while also gathering ideas for a new theatrical experience. Victorian society is all abuzz, watching this married man become close friends with a widow, and her mother (Julie Christie) doesn’t approve much either, but the two of them go about their relationship without the slightest worry. Barrie eventually writes Peter Pan, his greatest success and one of the most enduring plays of the twentieth century, though it costs him his marriage (to Radha Mitchell) and eventually a more personal tragedy as well, but wins him back the theatrical audiences of London. This beautifully delicate, enjoyable family film shows how powerful an inspiration relationships can be to art, and is brought to life with exceptional grace by Depp’s brilliantly restrained performance and Winslet’s inability to be anything but magnificent. The period is recreated with insightful detail, but best of all the story’s sentimentality in its final third is natural and unforced, instead a very touching ending to a whimsically attractive story. The screenplay, however, is underwhelming and unable to come up with anything good enough to get into the true depths of its characters’ emotions, while director Marc Forster relies too much on his powerful cast and the film’s pedigree to make anything important of the themes he has to work with. Perhaps it would help if Barrie’s relationship with his wife was more challenging, but she’s such a cold person (with Mitchell giving a cold performance) that their scenes are just boring, while his moments with the children are underdeveloped. It’s a lovely experience to watch, and shouldn’t be avoided by any means, but don’t expect it to stay with you for very long.