ITV – 26th December 2015 – 101mins
Written by: Adrian Hodges
Directed by: Diarmuid Lawrence
After last year’s painfully pointless and pancake-flat prequel Pan, my initial reaction upon seeing the advert for ITV’s family drama (which premiered on Boxing Day as part of their rich 2015 festive line-up and has recently been released on DVD) was an audible sigh, followed by the reflection that the channel had misguidedly chosen the wrong tentpole film to piggyback on the success of. Awkward.
However, having finally caught up with the feature length Peter & Wendy from the co-creator of Primeval and the mastermind behind BBC1’s The Musketeers series, I feel I owe ITV an apology, for this was a refreshing and inventive take on J.M. Barrie’s timeless tale, which rather than suffering the same fate as Joe Wright’s silver screen let-down, instead serves to eclipse and embarrass the Hugh Jackman-starring multi-million dollar flop further.
Modern day pre-teen Lucy Rose (Hazel Doupe) is arriving at Great Ormond Street (which has a real-world association with the franchise because Barrie bequested the rights of his story to the famous children’s hospital) for a heart operation. The ward’s kindly porter (Bjarne Henriksen) lends her a dusty hardback copy of the original 1911 novel from a secret Peter Pan museum, which Lucy initially baulks at, however upon reading the book to her fellow patients she soon finds herself enchanted by the Edwardian tale of fun-loving lost boys and swashbuckling pirates, and her dreams transport her to Neverland to continue the adventure as Wendy.
“I’m youth! I’m joy! I’m Innocence!”
Lucy’s ‘difficult’ age is key to Peter & Wendy’s versatile appeal. She’s a tad rebellious, difficult to please and desperate to be seen as an independent adult, so she comments on some of the more absurd features of the story (“That’s so random!” is her reaction to having a dog as a Nanny), while her reimagining is peopled by her favourite pop star (Paloma Faith is a perfectly feisty Tinker Bell), her surgeon (Stanley Tucci in a triple role of Dr Wylie/Mr Darling/Captain Hook) and her overly-concerned mum (Laura Fraser), while her young boyfriend (Zak Sutcliffe) takes the lead.
As the classic story becomes ever-more integrated with Lucy’s fight under the knife, the production does go a little overboard in fusing the real and fantasy realms. Seeing Hook and his pirate crew charging through the ward and using a gurney as a plank took some adjusting to, but this bold new take is nevertheless a surprisingly well-rounded romp with some humorous touches (a polite pirate in Rasmus Hardiker’s Smee) and it doesn’t shy away from some tough real-world issues, particularly with a rather heartbreaking conclusion. But then as the boy who wouldn’t grow up reminds us:
“To die would be an awfully big adventure”
Peter & Wendy is an inspiring and magical dual-layered delight which brings a sprinkle of fairy dust and antiquated pluck to a depressing and clinical modern world, and proves you’re never too old or too cool to identify with a children’s story.