Peter Pan Prequel Promises Plenty, Delivers Double
· Nick Willing
· Rhys Ifans
· Charlie Rowe
· Keira Knightley
· Anna Friel
· Bob Hoskins
Television Review: Neverland
by R.J. Carter
Published: December 1, 2011
Writer/Director Nick Willing is having fun with classic fantasy. Having already made waves for Syfy with miniseries events like "Tin Man" and "Alice", he now dips his pen into James Barrie's inkwell to deliver a mesmerizing view of Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily... and, of course, Peter Pan, all before the chronicled adventure with the Darling children.
What is Neverland? Where is Neverland? How did Peter and Hook get there, and what created the enmity between the two? That's just part of the backstory Willing serves up with the two-day Syfy event, "Neverland," starring Charlie Rowe as Peter and Rhys Ifans as Jimmy Hook.
The story begins in a very Dickensian London -- appropriately so, as the relationship between Jimmy Hook and Peter is equally Dickensian, given how they parallel Fagan and the Artful Dodger. Jimmy Hook is an outcast from high society, now given to teaching fencing in the poorer part of town. While he's an expert fencer, the job is a cover for his real business, which is overseeing a group of boys from the street who work together to steal for him. Peter is their coordinator, working from the rooftops and communicating directions to the others by way of the tune he plays on his pipe.
When Jimmy is asked to steal an object from a secure antique store, Peter convinces the others to do it for him, directly against Jimmy's cautions that the boys aren't ready for a job of this magnitude. When Peter and the crew succeed -- bumping into Hook in the process -- they encounter a mysterious orb: the object Hook was hired to steal. But when Peter isn't looking, in a flash Jimmy and the other boys disappear, leaving behind only the orb.
Frightened, Peter makes off with the orb himself, which soon after is activated once again, transporting him to a world of white forests, multi-legged crocodiles, and wood spirits -- not to mention the pirates and the Indians, all of whom have come to this place from different centuries, never growing older. They call the place Neverland.
This is the setting for Nick Willing's plot, and while it's given its science fiction twists, it is nonetheless astonishingly faithful to the Barrie classic. There is nothing at all that would contradict the original. In fact, Willing almost goes out of his way to incorporate every single detail from Peter Pan to provide a reason for how those details came to be. Jimmy Hook's fatherly affection for Peter, and Peter's devotion in return is a relationship that begins to crumble as Jimmy allies himself with the pirate Captain Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel) and her band, who include Gentleman Starkey (Cas Anvar) and Mr. Smee (Bob Hoskins, who played the role once before in the Robin Williams film, "Hook"). Jimmy's after a new prize, something Neverland has to offer that will make him powerful enough to exact his revenge on the elite of London, providing he can ever find a way back... and he can. This lust for power, coupled with revelations to Peter of Jimmy's past actions, sets the stage for the ensuing neverending enmity between the two.
Other familiar characters include Tinker Bell (portrayed by Charlotte Atkinson, but voiced by Keira Knightley) and Aaya -- Tiger Lily (Q'orianka Kilcher), while the new face is the enigmatic Doctor Fludd (Charles Dance), himself an allegory for the legendary royal alchemist John Dee.
"Neverland" gets high marks for storyline and effects. It's an absolutely beautiful tale, one that Barrie fans will appreciate and perhaps even cherish. Willing doesn't miss a beat from beginning right to the last line, which opens the doorway to the book. This is a miniseries event that science fiction, fantasy, and classical literature fans absolutely should not miss.
"Neverland" premieres on Syfy on Sunday, December 4 at 9/8c and continues on Monday, December 5 at 9/8c.