Dir: Marc Forster. US.2004. 101mins.

It may have been given atitle more redolent of a cheesy TV movie, but anchored by another knockoutperformance by Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland is destined to get plentyof big screen attention later this year.

Miramax Films can count onrunaway word-of-mouth and big-time returns both on awards podiums and at thebox office for Marc Forster's finely-crafted period tearjerker which will havewomen especially clamouring to see it. It's period with mainstream appeal: aboutas arty as Chocolat and closer to Terms Of Endearment in audienceaccessibility than Shadowlands.

Not that it will make muchdifference to the box office, but historical purists will not be happy. This isan imagining of how Barrie was inspired to write Peter Pan by his friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family; it isbased on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan which imagined conversationsbetween Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys.

Screenwriter Magee, who hascrafted a fully-fledged story around these conversations, hopes that the filmwill be seen as a "respectful tribute" to Barrie's creative genius; cynicsmight argue that it's fanciful fabrication and the media will no doubt re-openthe case over Barrie's sexuality and the rumour that he was a paedophile.

Still, the facts remain thatBarrie did in reality develop a close bond with the four Llewellyn Davies boys,although the film errs from other facts - in real life their father was aliveduring the writing of Peter Pan (in the film he has already died) andtheir mother died six years after it first premiered in London (in the film,she dies as soon as it opens).

The film starts in 1904 asBarrie's latest play bombs on the London stage much to the chagrin of his loyalproducer Charles Frohman (Hoffman); Barrie searches for inspiration for afollow-up but he gleans little from his loveless marriage to Mary (Mitchell).

One day, while walking hisSt Bernard dog in the park, he encounters the four fatherless Llewelyn Daviesboys and their recently widowed mother Sylvia (Winslet). To the disapproval ofMary and Sylvia's formidable mother Emma du Maurier (Christie), Barrie startsto spend an inordinately large amount of time with the family, winning the boysover with games, disguises, tricks and fantasy and ridding the household ofgloom. Slowly, he develops the ideas for Peter Pan, Neverland and the lost boysand a perplexed Frohman prepares to stage it.

Barrie's marriage ends, butbefore he can make any advances on Sylvia, tragedy strikes again. While PeterPan wins rave notices from all of London, the boys must prepare to livewithout their mother.

Finding Neverland demands a certain suspension of disbelief, notmerely because it invents so much of the drama, but because it wears its hearton its sleeve and sings so guilelessly of the powers of the imagination.Director Forster, who made his name with another heart-string-puller, Monster'sBall, walks a tightrope between cliche and sentimentality here but managesto avoid too much of both. He always airlifts the picture out of trouble whenit teeters on the edge of melodrama, while scoring some genuinely movinglump-on-the-throat moments which will have mothers everywhere clutching fortheir Kleenex.

Then again maybe he wouldn'tbe so successful if he were working with a lesser actor than Johnny Depp.Adopting a note-perfect upper-crust Scottish accent, the American actor is inalmost every scene and he is the model of restraint. He is assured anotherOscar nomination for his work.

While Winslet, Mitchell, Christieand Hoffman are all fine, Depp's best scenes are with 12 year-old FreddieHighmore, who is currently playing Charlie to Depp's Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Asthe sensitive, grieving Peter on whom the character of Peter Pan is based,Highmore is a bona fide scene-stealer.

Prod cos: Film Colony, Miramax Films
US dist:
Miramax Films
Int'l dist:
Miramax Int'l
Exec prods:
Bob Weinstein, HarveyWeinstein, Michelle Sy, Gary Binow, Neil Israel
Richard N Gladstein,Nellie Bellflower
David Magee, based on theplay The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee
Roberto Schaeffer
Prod des:
Gemma Jackson
Matt Chesse
Jan AP Kaczmarek
Main cast:
Johnny Depp, KateWinslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Kelly Macdonald, IanHart, Eileen Essell, Paul Whitehouse, Freddie Highmore, Joe Prospero, NickRoud, Luke Spill