Our Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Have you ever wondered how the pirates came to be in Neverland? Or where Peter first came from? Or the origins of the lost boys? Until now, we were forced to use our imagination to explain these mysteries.
There are worse places to be in London than on the streets in a gang of urchins, and Peter (Charlie Rowe) enjoys playing the leader of a ragtag bunch of pickpockets and petty thieves. Working from the rooftops directing his boys with the use of a flute and reporting to their protector, Jimmy (Rhys Ifans), at night, he has a pretty decent life. There's just one hitch in it -- he wants to be taken seriously. Jimmy has been hired to pull of a major job in a jewelry store and at the last minute decides not to use the boys, but Peter isn't about to let that stop him. He breaks in and discovers more than he bargained for, since the man who hired Jimmy isn't after your usual market-fare wares; he wants an orb responsible for transporting a pirate ship into another world. None of them are aware of the danger and when Jimmy taps the orb, fascinated with the shimmering world in its depths, he and the rest of Peter's friends wind up in Neverland.
Once there, the boys land aboard the pirate ship and the younger children are turned over to Smee (Bob Hoskins) to clean the decks, while the infamous pirate vixen Elizabeth (Anna Friel) takes a shine to Jimmy -- so much so that she shares a few secrets with him, including her desire to bottle fairy dust and figure out how to use it. Meanwhile, back in London Peter finagles the secret of the orb out of the man who was going to buy it (Charles Dance) but his trip into Neverland throws him into the midst of an Indian tribe. What follows are the origins of the classic story as we discover how each character came to Neverland, how Peter befriends Tinkerbell (voiced by Keira Knightley), when and where he and Captain Hook became enemies, and so forth. The result is a lavish four hour miniseries that fares about as well as most things from the SyFy channel -- wonderful ideas with an execution that sometimes isn't quite up to par, but you have to give them credit for sheer imagination.
The cleverness involved here is what works best, winding in elements of Dickens and other classic writers in our initial introduction to familiar figures and then throwing them into the midst of a wondrous place of undiscovered secrets. The history between Captain Hook and Peter is a touching one and the characterization is strong, but it was really the first half that won me over -- traversing the streets of London in a perfect throwback to Oliver Twist, we get to enjoy a bit of a period drama and good old fashioned thieving and sword fighting before we get into the nuances of piracy and the fairy realm. Of course, the acting ranges from wonderful to stilted and awkward; it helps that they have such a solid British adult cast and the boys are not bad, but from time to time everyone delivers a particularly excruciating line, the Indian princess more often than the rest. I loved the costuming and detail of the ship and for the most part the script carries along at a decent pace without too much lagging. It does become a tad absurd in its last twenty minutes, and some have complained about the abrupt, cheeky ending, but I quite liked it.
Content-wise there is not much for parents to be concerned about but the innuendo and kissing between Jimmy and Elizabeth before he winds up in her bed will raise a few eyebrows. One scene reveals her bare back as she gets dressed after their tryst; several more find them both in bathrobes. Her previous boyfriend is teased about no longer being summoned to the captain's cabin. Two different characters swim nude through a fairy stream (separately) but the camera avoids anything explicit. There are a few profanities here and there. Violence ranges from people being shot and/or stabbed to severed limbs and fistfights; a giant alligator is taken down with spears. None of it is very graphic and most of it is meant for sheer entertainment rather than brutality, although several characters do die, one of them a child.
While there were moments when the bad special effects made me wince, I thought it was a unique and clever twist on a very old story. The characters are marvelous even if they are a tad bit predictable, and it does a good job of explaining some of the unanswered questions in Peter Pan.