Film Reviews


By • Nov 24th, 2004 •

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Miramax Films / A Film Colony production

It’s 1903 and sophisticated Scottish playwright JM Barrie (Johnny Depp) has just had a stunning flop. His frustrated, yet indulgent, American producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman, in a thankfully understated performance) wants another play fast. Barrie is upper-crust Scottish with a proper, but sexually neglected wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell). Whatever their true marital situation, they have an aristocratic lifestyle: They formally dress for dinner, have separate sleeping quarters, and a house filled with staff. Barrie is the disinterested spouse and we do not know why. Barrie prefers work to tending to any needs of Mary who, nevertheless, champions her husband’s work. One afternoon Barrie takes his Newfoundland dog Porthos to the park where he meets the freshly widowed Mrs. Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four young sons

In a very charming scene, Barrie entertains the boys and thus begins an intense relationship with the family. Sylvia is the daughter of a famous novelist and is overwhelmed by the recent death of her husband and caring for the boys. Her mother, Mrs. Emma Du Maurier (Julie Christie), strongly disapproves of Barrie’s long, daily visits. Apparently, being wined, dined and charmed by the famous playwright is not appropriate. Proper society is shunning Sylvia and whispering about Barrie’s slavish devotion to the young boys.

Barrie’s playful time with the boys excites his imagination and enriches the boys’ lives. He is inspired to write a play – the first of it’s kind centered around children, for children and adults – fashioned around the family. However, Sylvia’s ill health is casting a shadow over the creative canvas.

Director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Magee do not pound away at the references we all know. They gently show us how Barrie was stirred by the boys to write his classic. Bringing his imagination to fruition is nicely done and quite expressive. Johnny Depp is terrific and dutifully sedate in his performance, but we never are given an inkling into the deeper passions that drove Barrie. The entire production, interspersed with fantasy, is outstanding.
Why didn’t Barrie and Mary have children? Why is their marriage troubled? Why doesn’t the lionized playwright have any adult friends? Is there any sexual spark between the formerly sexually active Sylvia and the chaste Barrie? Aren’t they bothered over the rumors circulating around London?

There is a negative spark between Emma and Barrie but, of course, this is Christie’s allure (like the great Charlotte Rampling) which age does not seem to restrict. Winslet disappoints, though it seems to be the limitations of the role that suppresses her natural sexual charge. (Yet, after all, she is working alongside Johnny Depp.) Of special note is the young boy who plays Peter Davies (Freddie Highmore). Here is the first candidate for a best supporting role nomination.

I’ve done some internet research on JM Barrie – so you don’t have to: There was a very much alive Mr. Llewelyn-Davies. Arthur and his wife Sylvia had five boys, not four. Mr. Davies was not happy with the life-long friendship his “motherly” wife had with Barrie; however, after their deaths Barrie was the “unofficial guardian of their sons.” Apparently having one’s family celebrated, or having one’s brood babysat by a famous playwright, was not enough to appease Mr. Llewelyn-Davies.

Was Barrie the model for Peter Pan? The film addresses, and then quickly dismisses, the pedophile rumors circulating through London highbrow society. According to a site devoted to JM Barrie, a Freudian analysis does haunt Barrie’s beloved, best-known play. The site remarks: “Barrie himself had stopped growing when he reached five feet in height, he suffered from migraines and rarely smiled. Wendy, Peter’s girl friend, borrowed her name from Barrie – it was his nickname. W.E. Henley’s daughter Margaret called Barrie Friendly-Wendy. The portrait of Wendy owes much to Barrie’s mother, an orphaned “little mother” who had to raise her younger brother.”

On another site devoted to Barrie, three of the Llewelyn-Davies boys lives were mentioned: “George died in World War I; Michael drowned himself with his boy friend in Oxford. Michael’s death was a deep blow to Barrie; and Peter, who became a publisher, committed suicide in 1960.” By all accounts, Barrie was a generous man to fans and friends. He gave the perpetual rights to “Peter Pan” to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.

Director: Marc Forster
Writer: David Magee
Based on the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by: Allan Knee
Producers: Richard N. Gladstein, Nellie Bellflower
Executive producers: Gary Binkow, Neal Israel
Director of photography: Roberto Schaefer
Production designer: Gemma Jackson
Costume designer: Alexandra Byrne
Music: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Editor: Matt Chesse

James Barrie: Johnny Depp
Sylvia Davies: Kate Winslet
Mrs. Emma Du Maurier: Julie Christie
Mary Barrie: Radha Mitchell
Charles Frohman: Dustin Hoffman
Peter: Freddie Highmore
Jack: Joe Prospero
George: Nick Roud
Michael: Luke Spill
Peter Pan: Kelly MacDonald
Mr. Jaspers: Mackenzie Crook
Mrs. Snow: Eileen Essell
Stage manager: Paul Whitehouse
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Ian Hart

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