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Finding Neverland

3

Johnny Depp with a strong Scottish accent. However convincing his pronunciation may be, there's just something incongruous about hearing the Pirate of the Caribbean "och" and "aye" in this gentle drama from Monster's Ball director Marc Forster. Like a modern Brando, the resurgent star can either act or perform. His recent pantomime piracy swashbuckled into the latter category, but his truest turns - Edward Scissorhands, Donnie Brasco - see him leave behind the ticks and tricks to immerse himself in the character. Either approach can be effective when matched with the right role. But - and the accent is a part of this - it always feels like Depp is performing in Finding Neverland.

That would be fine if Forster's film didn't demand a less-perceptible form of playacting. Kate Winslet delivers this, all creased eyes, soulful sobs and quiet strength; unfortunately, hers is the less interesting, underwritten role. For example, the precise nature of her relationship with Barrie is unexplored. They are friends, she appreciates his love for her children and the flights of fancy - expertly realised in theatrical fantasy sequences - that draw the sullen Peter (Freddie Highmore) out of the grief he feels for his dead father. Romance or sex, however, is studiously ignored. The only hint at it comes from rumours about their relationship and the precise nature of the nurturing he provides Peter and his brothers.

"Young boys should never be sent to bed," muses Barrie. "They always wake up a day older." It's one of a few somewhat platitudinal statements that betray the screenplay's stage origins, and while any paedophilic impropriety is dismissed by the filmmakers, their insistence on ensuring even Barrie's adult relationships are above board means there is little oomph to the idea that his presence is scandalising society.

Quasi-villainy is left to Julie Christie as the boys' battle-axe grandmother: glowering with imperious, icy disdain, her irritation with the whimsical writer may be shared by the audience. But as sentimental as it is, it's in sharing Barrie's sorrow at childhood lost and his belief in the importance of play that Finding Neverland, finally, soars.

Verdict:

A touching, sweet-natured imagining of the life behind Peter Pan. Johnny Depp's been more believable, but the conclusion's a choker.

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