|I just don't get it with the creators of so-called "fact-based" cinema pieces who lead us to believe they are granting us a glimpse into the lives of people of some historical importance, but in fact feel free to alter events in any way they feel helps make a better story.|
The movie that's got me bugged this morning is Finding Neverland, in which Johnny Depp portrays J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. Don't get me wrong - the movie is great -- the story is fascinating, the script compelling, Depp's performance fantastic. It's the moving tale of how the creation of the Peter Pan story emerged from the intense relationship playwrite Barrie formed with the family of an attractive young widow.
But, come to find out, Sylvia wasn't a widow at all when she befriended James. Indeed, her husband Arthur did not take ill until 1906 --Peter Pan's opening was Dec 27 1904 -- and Barrie, by this time deeply ensconced in the Llewelyn Davies family, served as Arthur's constant nurse and companion during his last illness.
There are a myriad of other quibbles one can make: they left out an entire Davies son - Nicholas - the son who is the source for much of what is known about Barrie's life; they left out the fascinating detail that the character of Hook was first played by Sylvia's brother, the actor Gerald du Maurrier... maybe these don't matter. But turning Sylvia into a widow from the day one and removing Barrie's relationship with Arthur seems to truly alter and impoverish our understanding of real events.
A brief, well-annotated biography of Barrie and Peter Pan by Terri Windling can be found here.
But more to the point, what are the ethics of biography in film?