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Film / Finding Neverland

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Finding Neverland is a 2004 film Very Loosely Based on a True Story about James M. Barrie's work on Peter Pan, starring Johnny Depp in an Oscar-nominated performance, and directed by Marc Forster. In April 2015, a musical Screen-to-Stage Adaptation opened on Broadway and ran through the following summer.

The film begins with the opening night of James' most recent play, Little Mary, which flops. Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman), his producer, decides to finance his next play anyway — James just hasn't written it yet.

Out in the park with his dog some time later, James encounters the four Llewelyn Davies boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet). He strikes up a friendship with the five of them, particularly Peter (Freddie Highmore, in his first well-known role), who has become very serious as a result of his father's death. James, Sylvia, Peter and Peter's brothers (George, Michael and Jack) proceed to have all sorts of wacky boyish adventures together, occupying almost all of James' free time. The relationship between James and Sylvia draws the ire of both James' wife, Mary (Radha Michell), and Sylvia's mother, Emma (Julie Christie); the former because she's afraid she's losing her husband to another woman, and the latter because the scandalous (though false) rumours about Sylvia and James are ruining Sylvia's chances at getting remarried.

Through his adventures with the boys, James is able to get the inspiration for Peter Pan, but all is not well this side of Neverland. Sylvia is becoming quite ill, but refuses to seek treatment because she doesn't want to upset the status quo. Peter is quite aware of how serious the situation is and throws a tantrum because the adults are going to start lying to him. Especially once Sylvia's condition starts getting worse, Emma tries to keep James away from her children and grandchildren.

Despite some initial hangups, Peter Pan ends up being quite the success, much to Charles' surprise. Due to Sylvia's illness, only Peter is able to make it on opening night, leading James to, well, that would spoil the ending.

Though most of the film is a fairly straightforward period piece, the first half has several (often extended) Imagine Spots by James Barrie, showing his over-active imagination and inspiration for various parts of the play.

Freddie Highmore and Eileen Essell (who played the elderly Mrs Snow, one of James' biggest fans) went on to be suggested by Johnny Depp for the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory adaptation, in which they played Charlie and Grandma Josephine respectively. This movie also happens to feature three actors who played recurring characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean series: Johnny Depp as James M. Barrie / Captain Jack Sparrow, Mackenzie Crook as Mr. Jaspers (the usher) / Ragetti (the pirate with a wooden eye), and Angus Barnett as Mr. Reilly (the actor playing Nana) / Mullroy (one of the two comic relief redcoats).

The film won an Academy Award for Original Music Score and was also nominated for Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing, Adapted Screenplay, Leading Actor (Depp, as previously mentioned), and Best Picture.

The Musical adaptation opened with Matthew Morrison as Barrie, Kelsey Grammer in the dual role of Frohman and (via a Fantasy Sequence) Capt. Hook, and Laura Michelle Kelly as Sylvia. Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy wrote the songs and the book was written by James Graham.

Has nothing to do with Leaving Neverland, that 2019 Michael Jackson documentary.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Frohman wears Captain Hook's costume while criticising the script. Dustin Hoffman previously played the Captain in Hook. In the original screenplay, Frohman was supposed to mock a couple of Hook's lines, but Hoffman refused, saying that he had already played Hook once — and greatly disappointing Marc Foster.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Nana in the books was intended to be a Landseer. Finding Neverland portrays her as a Great Pyrenees.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • When Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies boys Peter was only a baby, and in fact Barrie's closest relationships amongst the boys were with with George and Michael. The youngest Llewelyn Davies brother Nico (himself completely erased from the movie's reality), acknowledged that George and Michael were 'the ones' to Barrie. Michael was the main inspiration for Peter Pan, despite the character sharing his name with his elder brother.
    • Arthur (the boys' father) was alive for several years into the Llewellyn Davies/Barrie friendship. He didn't actually die until three years after the premiere of Peter Pan, nor did Sylvia die until three years later still.
    • Little Mary actually did pretty well; it wasn't a flop.
    • The real reason Barrie's wife left him wasn't his work ethic or playing with Sylvia and family; it was impotence. The film doesn't even hint at this — not even a "it's your fault we can't have kids" — but it was a major part of the highly publicized divorce case.
    • Barrie's producer Charles Frohman, portrayed as full of cynical misgivings about the Peter Pan idea, was in reality unfailingly supportive of Barrie throughout his career (he was one of Barrie's few real adult friends) and was crazy about Peter Pan from its inception. His enthusiasm for the project ran to acting out whole scenes from the play to friends. Years later, when he died in the Lusitania disaster, he is claimed to have gone down quoting, 'to die will be an awfully big adventure'.
    • There was a complex line of development between Barrie's inspiration an the eventual emergence of the play Peter Pan. Pan first appeared as a fiction within a fiction in Barrie's novel The Little White Bird, which was itself a great success.
    • The film's bittersweet ending is a little misleading in tone, if not actually factually inaccurate. Peter and Barrie's relationship became strained as the boy grew up, rather than reaching the equilibrium achieved in the film. Peter grew to hate his association with Pan and died a suicide at 63.note  George and Michael, Barrie's 'ones', both died young and in tragic circumstances: George was taken out by a sniper in the trenches of WWI, aged 21. Michael and his close friend / possible lover drowned in what was either a terrible accident or a suicide pact. The Musical choosing to romanticize the fictionalized version of events further was a sticking point for one of its critics.
    • The Musical renders Sylvia Promoted to Love Interest, though it's mostly chaste.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Peter Pan is a success, but Sylvia's illness catches up with her. Still, Peter starts writing again, James shows him the power of his imagination and Emma comes to a peaceful resolution with James after both are given custody of the boys.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Michael at some points. He causes George's arm to get broken while he's in the flying harness by trying to take it away from Jack. Both then let go of the rope, making George fall.
    • Jack also mocks Peter during one of his mood swings, and does (admittedly, understandably) not have much faith in Michael while the latter tries to fly a kite. Still, both boys do mostly seem like nice boys.
  • Call-Back: "It's a secret." ("It's a play.")
  • Calling the Old Man Out: It ends up being George, of all people, who stands up to Emma in the end.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Charles. "Now my nightmare is complete", indeed.
  • Death Is a Sad Thing: The Llewelyn Davies boys have recently lost their father at the time the film begins. Peter, in particular, is most affected by it, acting rather serious as a result.
  • Definitely Just a Cold: Sylvia tries to downplay her illness; Peter, who is rather unhappy with this sort of thing, anticipates it and pre-emptively lashes out.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The theater audience during Peter Pan's opening night. While the orphans laugh at Nana's antics from the beginning, it takes a while for them to start following suit. It breaks out in full-force when even the adults are surprised at Peter flying, and by the end of the play they're just as invested as the orphans are.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mr. Llewelyn Davies has died before the film began, leaving his sons in the care of their mother.
  • The Edwardian Era
  • Growing Up Sucks: James firmly believes this, and tries to stop Peter from growing up so quickly.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Emma is not a true villain, but she is the character most antagonistic to James. Her attitude changes completely as a result of seeing Peter Pan and Sylvia dying.
  • Historical Beauty Update: In real life Barrie was tiny - due, it is thought to psychogenic dwarfism (Barrie's brother David died when James was 6, and his mother made it very clear to James that she preferred the dead son who would never grow up). His short stature plagued Barrie's self-confidence and informed his work. Apart from that he was unremarkable-looking; on the gaunt side and head a bit too big for his body. Naturally, then, he is portrayed by Johnny Depp.
  • Honorary Uncle: James is explicitly called "Uncle Jim" and "Uncle James" by the boys, though given his personality he's more of an honorary big brother.
  • Imagine Spot: James is prone to these, typically as a fantastic overlay on what's actually happening
  • Imagine Spotting: The final Imagine Spot is shared by James, Sylvia, Emma, the boys and the actors.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Sylvia starts getting quite the cough near the halfway point of the movie; both James and Peter are quite aware that things aren't going to end well.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: James and the boys, helped along by James' childlike nature (and to a lesser extent, by the maturity of both Peter and George).
  • Making the Masterpiece: James working on Peter Pan.
  • Manchild: Though James is (mostly) capable of taking care of himself, he has an air of immaturity and childlike wonder about him, and he clearly has much more fun playing make-believe with the Llewelyn Davies boys than he does socialising with adults.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Mary and several others believe that James was having an affair with Sylvia. He only saw her as a friend.
  • Mr. Imagination: James spends the entire film imagining a more fantastic version of the events he's experiencing, ranging from games with the boys (a western shoot-out with the boys as cowboys and James as a native; a pirate ship with the boys as pirate captives of James and Sylvia) to "enhanced" versions of the events he's seeing (raining in the theatre as his play bombs; the boys starting to fly as they jump on their beds).
  • Never Say "Die": The PG-rated movie has no problems with death, but some of the characters (such as Mrs Snow) do end up avoiding the word, consistent with Victorian sensibility.
  • Parental Substitute: James, to the boys.
  • Promotion to Parent: George, the eldest son, starts taking more responsibility for his brothers as the story goes on, causing James to comment on him becoming an adult.
  • Romancing the Widow: Rumours of this arise as a result of all of the time that James spends with Sylvia — the reality is more of a platonic variation; Emma is rather annoyed with James because his attentions are keeping this from legitimately happening to Sylvia (her daughter).
  • Show Within a Show: Both of James' plays — bits of two different productions of Peter Pan are shown on-screen. Some of the actors playing actors are only credited by the character their character plays.
  • That Liar Lies: "Stop lying to me! I'm sick of grown-ups lying to me!" Peter really hates it when adults downplay the severity of the situation.
  • Verbing Nouny
  • What the Hell, Hero?: While she's just a supporting character, James calls Mary out on her refusal to lend the Llewelyn-Davies family one of their two maids. Though Mary doesn't show very much of it, her calm "How dare you." lets the audience know that she did not appreciate it.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: James refuses to lie to Peter, who refuses to believe him since he believes that adults are never honest with children about the serious stuff.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Peter has a severe case of this, though George also shows signs of maturity in the second half.

The musical adaptation adds examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: In the 2015 Broadway production, the Peter Pan cast toasts "cheers" and one of the cast members asks Frohman (played by Kelsey Grammer) whether they have Cheers in America.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Something About This Night", which accompanies the world premiere of Peter Pan. The last two songs are reprises.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Act One ends with a two-song sequence ("Live by the Hook" and "Stronger") in which James imagines Captain Hook and his crew encouraging him to get over his doubts.
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: "Stronger" for James.
  • Let's Duet: "What You Mean to Me" for James and Sylvia.
  • Parental Love Song: "Sylvia's Lullaby" to her boys.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Sylvia, though aside from one kiss with James it's chaste.
  • Retool: An extreme case. The show originally had a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie and book by Allan Knee, and opened in the U.K. in 2012 with the intent of a West End transfer. It didn't do well enough with critics and audiences to justify that, and producer Harvey Weinstein's revision efforts culminated in him making a fresh start with a new creative team (not only writers, but director, choreographer, etc.).
  • Significant Double Casting: The same actor plays Charles Frohman and Captain Hook; the former is a real world figure who has doubts about James's new project, while the latter is a Fantasy Sequence figure who encourages James to disregard such doubts and reach his full potential.