Last night I went with friends to the National Trust site of Box Hill, in Surrey, to see an open air showing of “Finding Neverland”. Its a story of how “Peter Pan” came to be written by JM Barrie. The accuracy of the story is subject to the usual artistic licenses and too much attention to detail may rather miss the point of the story.
In essence, this is a tale of recapturing childhood. Barrie, (played by Johnny Depp) was struggling to write a commercially successful play and happens upon the Llewelyn-Davies family, who become the inspiration for the story. The story itself (in the film rather than reality) is born out of struggle – Barrie’s own marriage is far from happy, the Llewelyn-Davies family have suffered the loss of a father and Barrie himself needed a successful play for his theatrical producer Charles Frohman.
Barrie is inspired by the imagination of the Llewelyn-Davies boys and becomes a significant figure in their lives. In meeting with them, he is both a willing participant and ring-leader in their play, recalling something of his own childhood and confronting the reality of what has been lost in the transition to adulthood, in so doing, his behaviour is frowned upon by the socialites of the day, including his wife who eventually divorces him for a man more present.
Childhood is precious and brief, but so too is life – coming to terms with loss and grief is experienced differently by all, yet all undergo this very adult experience. This is poignantly reflected in the movie with the mother, Sylvia, played by Kate Winslet, who also dies fairly suddenly from cancer and whose friendship with Barrie has been something of a talking point much to the chagrin of Mary Barrie and Emma du Maurier.
Worse than fiction?
Despite being a moving tale of loss, where the only relief seems to be found in friendship and escape into imagination, the real story is even more painful. It transpires that lives of the four brothers all met with significant sadness.
In reality the boys’ father barrister Arthur Llewelyn-Davies died in 1907, age 44, some three years after the play was first performed. JM Barrie divorced his wife in 1909. Sylvia died in 1910 aged 43. Barrie didn’t publish Peter Pan as a book until 1911 having made numerous revisions of the play.
The second eldest Jack, actually left home shortly before his mother died in 1910 to join the Navy. George, the eldest, was killed in Flanders in 1915 at the age of 21, the second youngest Michael aged 20 drowned in suspicious circumstances (thought to be suicide) in 1921.
Peter grew up apparently very unhappy about the constant references of him with Peter Pan, eventually falling out with Barrie over a relationship that Peter had with illustrator Vera Willoughby whilst Peter was 20 and still serving in the military, the argument is presumed to have been that Vera was 20 years older and married. Peter went on to form his own publishing company, which the film suggests as a nod to the influence of Barrie and his late mother, his company published work by his cousin Daphne du Maurier. When Barrie died age 77 in 1937, his estate passed largely to his secretary, the royalties of Peter Pan were gifted to Great Ormond Street.
Jack died when he was 65 in 1959, Peter committed suicide just 7 months later, age 63. It was discovered that he had been working on a piece about his family entitled “Morgue” and had reached the point where he was confronted by the prospect that his youngest brother may have committed suicide. Peter was married with three children. The youngest brother, Nicholas died in 1980 and doesn’t feature in the film as this would have revealed the problematic chronology within the movie, havng been born in 1903.
And the financial planning lesson?
For some of us childhood was an experience lacking responsibility. At times, when life can feel overwhelming it is tempting to recall such childhood freedoms. The path to adulthood is rarely an instant marvel, and in reality childhood contains all sorts of trauma and experience. Growing up can be hard, taking responsibility can be difficult.
Enjoy life whilst you have it, treasure your friendships and loved ones, don’t count on inheritances and ensure that your family (and/or friends) are adequately financially protected…. and remember that stories aren’t always factually accurate….even our own. Finally, your financial planning really shouldn’t be based on fiction, but it should contain a considerable amount of imagination.
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