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Finding Neverland is a 2004 Britishmarker/Americanmarker semi-biographical film about playwright J. M. Barrie, directed by Marc Forster. The screenplay by David Magee is based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee.

Plot synopsis

The story focuses on Scottishmarker writer J. M. Barrie, his platonic relationship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and his close friendship with her sons, who inspire the classic play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.

Following the dismal reception of his latest play, Little Mary, Barrie meets the widowed Sylvia and her four young sons in Kensington Gardensmarker, and a strong friendship develops between them. He proves to be a great playmate and surrogate father figure for the boys, and their imaginative antics give him ideas which he incorporates into a play about boys who do not want to grow up, especially one named after troubled young Peter Llewelyn Davies. His wife Mary, who eventually divorces him, and Sylvia's mother Emma du Maurier, object to the amount of time Barrie spends with the Llewelyn Davies family. Emma also seeks to control her daughter and grandsons, especially as Sylvia becomes increasingly weak from an unidentified illness.

Producer Charles Frohman skeptically agrees to mount Peter Pan despite his belief it holds no appeal for upper-class theatergoers. Barrie peppers the opening night audience with children from a nearby orphanage, and the adults present react to their infectious delight with an appreciation of their own. The play proves to be a huge success.

Because Sylvia is too ill to attend the production, Barrie arranges to have an abridged production of it performed in her home. She dies shortly afterward, and Barrie finds that her will is to have him and her mother to look after the boys; an arrangement agreeable to both.

Production notes

Finding Neverland originally was scheduled to be released in the fall of 2003. Columbia Pictures, which owned the film rights to Barrie's play and was adapting it for theatrical release the same year, refused to allow Miramax to use scenes from the play in Finding Neverland if it were released at the same time. Miramax agreed to delay the release in exchange for the rights to reproduce scenes from the stage production within the film.

Although the opening credits state the film was inspired by true events, several significant liberties with the historical facts and the timing of events were taken, to the point that both the setup and the development of the story in the film do not reflect the true history of Barrie or the Davies family. The main changes include:

  • Arthur Llewelyn Davies was still alive when Barrie befriended Sylvia and their sons, the youngest of whom (Nico) was omitted from the film. The removal of Sylvia's husband avoids the subject of Barrie's interference in the Davies marriage.
  • Michael had not been born and Peter was still an infant when Barrie met the family.
  • The Davies household had a nanny, Mary Hodgson; much of the role of Sylvia's mother in the film was based on her.
  • Barrie was a consistently successful playwright prior to Peter Pan, and Frohman had no qualms about producing it, although Barrie himself was uncertain of its commercial potential.
  • The play's opening performance had few children in the audience; the only precaution against a staid reaction was that the musicians were to clap to revive Tinker Bell, which proved unnecessary.
  • Sylvia was still healthy at the time of the play's 1904 premiere and did not die until nearly six years later. Her husband also survived to see the play's debut.
  • The improvised home production of the play was presented for five-year-old Michael, who was suffering from a stubborn childhood illness during the play's revival in 1905.
  • The Barries' marriage ended in divorce shortly before Sylvia's death, but years later than depicted in the film.

Richmond Theatremarker in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thamesmarker doubled as the Duke of York's Theatremarker - the venue in which Peter Pan was first presented. Exterior scenes were filmed in Hyde Parkmarker and Kensington Gardensmarker. According to commentary on the DVD release, the structure used as Barrie's summer cottage was located near Kentmarker. Interiors were filmed in the Pinewood Studiosmarker in Buckinghamshire and the Shepperton Studiosmarker in Surreymarker.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival, the Haifamarker Film Festival, the Athensmarker Panorama European Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, and the Leeds International Film Festival before opening in the UK on October 29, 2004.

The film was budgeted at $25 million. It grossed $51,676,606 in the US and $67 million in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $118,676,606.

Principal cast

Peter Pan cast

Critical reception

In her review in The Times, Wendy Ide called the film "charming but rather idiosyncratic" and added, "A mixture of domestic drama, tragedy and exuberant fantasy, the film blends moist-eyed nostalgia with the cruel disappointments of a marriage break-up; a childlike playfulness and unpredictability with a portrait of a treacherously unforgiving and rigid Edwardian society. It could appeal to everyone from preteens to pensioners, or it could appeal to no one at all. Ultimately this unconventionality is probably one of the film’s main strengths. And if the tone veers a little haphazardly between fantasy and cold, hard reality, well, perhaps that is the most effective way of taking us into the mind of the film's mercurial protagonist."

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times said it "is the kind of film where even the smallest crack has been sealed. Instead of real quirks, strange habits, moments of everyday gas, gurgle and grunting, movies like this give us sumptuous production design, meticulous costumes and stories meant to leave us dewy-eyed and thoughtful, if never actually disturbed… The problem isn't the liberties the filmmakers take with reality, but that this isn't an engaging bowdlerization… Johnny Depp neither soars nor crashes, but moseys forward with vague purpose and actorly restraint… [he] and Ms. Winslet are pleasant to watch, as are the actors who play the Davies boys, but they haven't been pushed to their limits."

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle observed the film "ends so beautifully, so poignantly and so aptly that there's a big temptation to forget that most of what precedes the ending is tiresome drivel, that Johnny Depp's performance… is precious and uninsightful, and that almost all of the movie's magic derives directly from scenes lifted from Barrie's play. … Winslet's no-nonsense strength is especially appreciated… Another actress would have followed Depp into the quicksand of faux-poetic self-indulgence. But Winslet is direct, grounded and heartfelt in a recognizably human way. Dustin Hoffman, as Barrie's producer, also steers clear of Depp's rhythms, though he has trouble deciding whether the producer is British or American."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film 3½ out of a possible four stars and called it "glorious entertainment… magical, not mush." About Depp he said, "It's too early to speculate on how [he] will grow as an actor. Based on Finding Neverland, it's not too early to call him a great one."

In the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall graded the film B and commented, "A first viewing of Finding Neverland was tear-inducing and completely satisfying. Seeing it again was a mistake, less of my own than Forster's, who didn't make a movie that can sustain its magic beyond first impressions. Problems with David Magee's screenplay that initially could be shrugged off—occasionally slow pacing, melodramatic plot twists—became glaring. With familiarity, the fantasy simply wasn't as fanciful. It felt like growing up, and it was disappointing. On the other hand, many of the film's qualities are too strong to falter, starting with another fascinating man-child performance by Johnny Depp as Barrie."

Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "gently seductive, genuinely tender and often moving without being maudlin" and added, "Depp and Winslet share a rare combination of airiness, earthiness and sharp, wry intelligence."

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards record
1. Best Original Score

77th Academy Awards

58th British Academy Film Awards Nominations

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Nominations 62nd Golden Globe AwardsNominations

London Film Critics Circle Nominations

11th Screen Actors Guild AwardsNominations

Additional Wins


  1. Finding Neverland at
  2. The Times review
  3. New York Times review
  4. San Francisco Chronicle review
  5. Rolling Stone review
  6. St. Petersburg Times review
  7. Los Angeles Times review

External links

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