Film

The Lost Girls: 'This movie represents my own process of growing up'

The director and star of The Lost Girls has made a film that reframes the story of Peter Pan to explore his impact on Wendy and four generations of women in her family

Director Livia de Paolis also stars as a grown-up Wendy in The Lost Girls

Peter Pan has been inspiring writers and filmmakers for over a century since he first swept Wendy off her feet and to Neverland. The original incarnation of JM Barrie’s story was a play in 1904, then printed as the novel Peter and Wendy in 1911. 

Make believe is the ultimate rule in Peter Pan’s world, and that’s why the story can take us into such rich
territory. The imagination is bound to run wild, and images can resonate with different readers in deeply personal and unique ways. 

We all know the story. But what’s not quite as well known is the last chapter, which Barrie wrote as an additional scene to be added to the play four years after the premiere of the original production. The scene is titled When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought. It was only performed on the closing night of the 1907-1908 run of the show. It was later included in the novel in 1911, but was left out of the Disney production and is still not widely known. 

At the end of the most commonly known version, Peter promises to come back to Wendy the following spring. However, Peter is very forgetful, and so in the last chapter he returns to Wendy, but only years later when she has grown up and has forgotten how to fly. It’s a very moving moment when Wendy tells Peter she can no longer fly away to Neverland and be his mother because she now has a daughter. As Barrie wrote, Peter will then take Wendy’s daughter and then again her daughter “and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless”. 

The Lost Girls takes off from here and looks at how Peter visits Wendy’s daughter, and then her daughter, and then her daughter – and the impact his visitations have on the lives of these women.  

We see Peter Pan visiting four generations of Darling women, from the original Wendy, wonderfully played by Vanessa Redgrave, to her daughter Jane, played by Joely Richardson and Tilly Marsan, her granddaughter Wendy, played by yours truly alongside Amelia Minto and Emily Carey, until the fourth generation played by Ella-Rae Smith and Ava Fillery. 

So much of Peter Pan is about the presence or absence of mothers. The simple fact that he asks Wendy to be his mother, though in a way very endearing, still raises a number of questions. Additionally, the narrative that pairs Wendy and Tinkerbell in the original story points to a feminine, unreconcilable duality between a make-believe mother and a sexually aggressive and capricious fairy that is very problematic. 

As a society we are constantly in a dialogue with the stories, the sagas and the fairytales that have informed our culture. For storytellers it is only natural to recast the old myths and discover what remains relevant, what still moves us and what is new about them in our time period, and also what begs to be re-envisioned and reframed.

When I look at how the making of this film has become intertwined with my own life I cannot help but notice how fragile the distinction between the imagined and the real is and how fantasy and reality constantly inform and occasionally deform each other. 

The Lost Girls is in cinemas now

During the development of this film I experienced the loss of my mother. I also moved from Manhattan
to London, where I now live a more grounded life, and yet I can also say that during the making of the film I found myself in some pretty surreal scenarios. From being so fortunate to have both Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson playing mother and daughter in The Lost Girls to being temporarily relocated during production to a close friend’s place, which just happened to be 100 metres away from JM Barrie’s home. I could not help but notice how Barrie’s house kind of resembles a pirate ship. Or did I just imagine that?

On a personal level, this movie represents my own process of growing up, of trusting how I see things, of finding my voice and taking responsibility for it.

When we first meet Peter Pan he is squatting on the floor, crying. We could say Peter is crying because he’s lost his shadow, or lost his fairy, or forgotten the end of a fairytale. We could also answer that he is crying because he misses his mother. But what if he is crying because for “the boy who wouldn’t grow up” Neverland is in fact a final destination? 

That brings an element of tragedy to Peter’s awfully big adventure. Never growing up might not actually be such a good thing.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.


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