It is London circa 1903 and it is opening night for J.M. Barrie's work "Little Mary," a stuffy work produced by Charles Froham (Dustin Hoffman). The play is not successful and Barrie retreats to a local park to write his next opus. Distracted by the playful Peter Llewelyn Davies (Freddie Highmore), Barrie is introduced to Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslett) and her 4 boys. Sylvia is a recent widow who has a hard time keeping house. Davies must also contend with her mother (Julie Christie), a patron of high society who is concerned about her daughter's relationship with the struggling playwright. Barrie is also going through an icy relationship with his wife, Mary Ansell Barrie (Radha Mitchell).
Despite the financial pressures of producing a successful show, Barrie indulges himself by playing pirates and Indians in the park with the Llewelyn-Davies boys. Barrie inspires the Llyewelyn- Davies Family with imaginative games, role-plays and tall tales. Barries also observes the British Empire's societal conventions and finds a way to lampoon them with the genesis of his new play, "Peter Pan."
There has always been a dark side to the Peter Pan myth, "Finding Neverland" is also a tale of grief. J.M. Barrie and Mrs. Llewelyn Davies suffer from the lost of a family members and are seasoned in grief. The bite of "Finding Neverland's" tragedy is the humor of the characters. "Finding Neverland" celebrates imagination inspired by subtle things. At one point the wicked mother(Christie) berates a child with a garden implement, Barrie observes this moment as the inspiration for Captain James Hook, Peter Pan's arch nemesis.
The performances create credibility for "Finding Neverland" Dustin Hoffman is a delight as the befuddled benefactor and theatrical producer. With her work in "Troy" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban," Julie Christie is enjoying a career renaissance in 2004. Despite her character's icy persona, Christie improvised a key reaction in the film that inspired her young costars - it is a key moment in the film that reveals her character' vulnerability. Kate Winslet is today's most reliable movie actress given her work in "Titanic," "Iris" and "Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind." She can do it all, but Winslet does seem quite at home wearing the costumes of the early 20th Century. Johnny Depp also brings forth his wealth of experience in costume dramas like "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Edward Scissorhands" and "Sleepy Hollow." As J.M. Barrie, Depp taps into his "Ed Wood" playfulness while giving a sustained and consistent performance. Last, but not least, there is Freddie Highmore as Peter. This young actor steps into the sneakers that Haley Joel Osment and Daniel Radcliffe have outgrown. Depp was so inspired by Highmore's performance in "Finding Neverland," that Highmore will be Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's adaptation of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
The Box Office performance for **Finding Neverland** has been less than steller. It is an entertaining holiday film that has much going for it; laughter, tears, good performances and gorgeous cinematography. Hopefully "Finding Neverland" will find it's audience on the DVD rack some Sunday afternoon.