"Neverland" gives fantasy twist to Peter Pan tale

Thu Dec 1, 2011 9:02am EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British writer and director Nick Willing has always been fascinated with the story of "Peter Pan," but it took decades before he summoned the courage to put his own version of the children's classic on screen.

Television movie "Neverland", making its U.S. debut on the Syfy cable channel on December 4 and 5, and on British-based Sky Movies on December 9, is a two-part prequel to the story of the boy who refuses to grow up, taking viewers from the grimy streets of 19th century London to a world of pure imagination.

"It's a story of where Peter came from, who he was, where the lost boys came from, how they ended up in Neverland, and why it's full of pirates and Indians and fairies and...why Peter doesn't want to grow up," said Willing.

"When I read the book, I loved it so much that my imagination just ran wild...But only in the last couple of years have I had the courage and the confidence to take on such a massive thing," he added.

Scottish writer J.M. Barrie's children's tale has seen dozens of film, stage and TV versions or spin-offs in the last 100 years. A different prequel, based on the 2004 novel "Peter and the Starcatcher", is headed to Broadway in early 2012.

Willing uses high-tech and green screen wizardry to create a lush, fantasy world of tree spirits, white jungles and cities formed out of forest for "Neverland," and he introduces audiences to new characters like power-mad pirate queen Elizabeth Bonny, played by Anna Friel.

But what interests the 50-year-old British writer and director most is the relationship between Captain (or in this case Jimmy) Hook and Peter Pan.

In "Neverland", Hook, played by Rhys Ifans, starts out as a kindly, if enigmatic, father figure to young London pick-pocket Peter (Charlie Rowe) and his gang of young thieves.   Continued...