A yearning for lost innocence sparks the journey in director Marc Forster's whimsical period drama Finding Neverland. Johnny Depp stars as JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, in this tender and visually exciting portrait of the people and events that inspired his evergreen children's story. However the story never comes into its own, only skimming the surface of Barrie's obsession and failing to grasp the psychological ties underlying his most intimate relationships.
While walking his dog in Edwardian London, Barrie encounters the Llewelyn Davies brothers (Freddie Highmore, Nick Roud, Joe Prospero, Luke Spill) and their widowed mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). Pensive after a lukewarm response to his latest play, he finds distraction in their company, regaling the children with vividly imagined games set in the world of Neverland.
The words soon begin to flow but tongues start to wag as Barrie spends more and more time with the Llewelyn Davies', thus undermining his marriage and inviting the cool disdain of Sylvia's mother (Julie Christie). But a greater tragedy is set to strike, finally forcing Barrie and the boys to put away childish things.
"LACK OF CHEMISTRY BETWEEN DEPP AND WINSLET"
Speculation that Barrie was a paedophile is raised but quickly dismissed, with Forster offering no other clues as to what made the author tick and giving Depp little room to manoeuvre in the role of cardboard cutout nice guy. Barrie's bond with young Peter is clearly the pulse of the story, which is always at its most compelling in their scenes together and bolstered by Freddie Highmore's startlingly heartrending performance. However, the script places too much emphasis on Barrie's relationship with Sylvia - a flaw emphasised by the lack of chemistry between Depp and Winslet.
At best Finding Neverland poignantly conveys the tragedy of departed innocence, balancing harsh reality against a beautifully realised, fairy-dusted fantasy. It's just a shame that Forster gets lost on the way.