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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Fact and fiction in Finding Neverland
By Emma Saunders
BBC News entertainment reporter

Johnny Depp and Marc Forster
Forster (right) believes Depp is perfect to portray a boy who never grew up
Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, opens in the UK on Friday. Marc Forster, who directed the movie about the life of Peter Pan author JM Barrie, defends some of the artistic licence taken by his film.

When only your second feature film hits the headlines by scooping the first best actress Oscar for a black woman, you hope it will open doors for you.

Monster's Ball director Marc Forster would not have had the chance to make Finding Neverland if it had not been for Halle Berry's historic success in 2002.

Second chance

"I read the script before Monster's Ball but they didn't see the connection with my first film, Everything Put Together, which is dark and quite depressing," says Forster.

But when the film's backers had trouble finding a director, Forster's agent showed them the now-completed Monster's Ball and offered him the movie.

Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp
Winslet has said Depp was like a fifth child on the set

Finding Neverland is based on Allen Knee's play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan, an imaginary series of conversations between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys, the family friends who inspired the playwright to write Peter Pan.

The film focuses on the unspoken love between Barrie - played by Johnny Depp - and the boys' mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet), and his friendship with her four sons (although there were five in real life.)

Depp's charismatic performance invites the viewer into the vivid and child-like imagination of the Scottish writer, and it was the story's dream-like quality which drew Forster's interest.

New territory

"There are many themes that attracted me, the creative process, the transformation of imagination, mortality - and that if you are passionate about something, if you believe in your dreams, you can manifest them," he says.

He was not familiar with Peter Pan before the project - born in Germany, he grew up in Switzerland, where Peter Pan is not so prominent in the children's literary canon: "I grew up on Heidi, not so much Peter Pan!"

Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore
Freddie Highmore (right) will next appear as Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which also stars Depp

The casting of the children was crucial, as they have such prominent roles.

"Freddie Highmore - who plays Peter - was very special. I auditioned a lot of children but I cast Freddie first because he had such truth, he is an incredible child actor with an incredible gift," says Forster.

Depp was like the "fifth child in the group" according to Forster.

"He blends in with them, he has this wonderful natural quality of the child within him being so alive."

Maternal instinct

Forster believes it was crucial for the actress who played Sylvia to relate to motherhood.

"Kate is such a fantastic actress and it was important for me that the person was a mother herself and really knew how to deal with children and was very hands-on with them."

Dustin Hoffman and Johnny Depp
Hoffman (left) plays Charles Frohman, a wealthy American impresario

The film also includes performances from veteran actors Julie Christie, who plays Sylvia's mother and Dustin Hoffman, Barrie's financial backer.

Forster is obviously in awe of the pair, describing both as icons and expressing surprise that Hoffman came on board.

"I couldn't believe he said yes to the role," he says.

While the film has been eagerly awaited by many, there has been disapproval in some quarters over the blur between fact and fiction.

In real life, Sylvia's husband was alive when Barrie formed a friendship with the family - in the film, she is already a widow, portrayed as a brave single mother.

But Forster makes no apologies for poetic licence.

Controversy

"There are several inconsistencies with the Knee play - for me the main thing was how Barrie was inspired and who inspired him. Anyone not involved in his inspiration wasn't necessary.

"The story is about him writing Peter Pan and the main focus was Sylvia and the boys. The husband died of cancer of the jaw and Barrie paid a lot of his doctor's fees. But that would have been a completely different story," says Forster.

He wants people to leave the cinema feeling uplifted, rather than go home worrying about factual changes which he feels are an acceptable part of the artistic process.

"I hope people walk away feeling that whatever their dreams are, they have the courage to live and to believe in their imagination and their dreams."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch a clip from Finding Neverland



SEE ALSO:
Depp and Winslet launch Neverland
18 Oct 04 |  Entertainment
Actors hit Venice despite protest
06 Sep 04 |  Entertainment
Leading Halle Berry to the Ball
07 Jun 02 |  Entertainment
Monster's Ball touches the heart
06 Jun 02 |  Entertainment


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