Winter’s Tale – a review

Winter’s Tale, based on the novel by Mark Helprin.

Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, and Jessica Brown Findlay, and opens on Valentine’s day.


Winter’s Tale is an unusual amalgamation of fairy tale, love story, battle between good and evil, and man’s search for his destiny.

Colin Farrell plays Peter Lake, a thief who works for Russell Crowe’s Pearly Soames in 1916 New York. After a falling out, Pearly puts a price on Peter’s head, and Peter decides to leave town. Having escaped an earlier confrontation with Pearly and his gang with the help of a very special horse, Peter breaks into one final house prior to leaving the city.

The house is owned by Isaac Penn, played by William Hurt, whose daughter, Beverly (played by Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil: Jessica Brown Findlay) is dying of consumption (Pulmonary Tuberculosis) and is forced to sleep in a tent on the roof so that she can remain cool because of her extremely high—and unpredictable—fever. Beverly, having been left alone as the family travels to prepare their country home for her arrival, interrupts Peter in the act of robbing the place.

And so the fairy tale begins. True Love, and Peter is hopelessly, helplessly, in love with Beverly, and she with him. After a cup of tea, he leaves, but decides not to flee the city and Pearly’s men, but to instead return to be with Beverly.

Meanwhile, we get a glimpse of Pearly’s criminal power, as well as his supernatural power, as he has a vision of a red-haired woman who destined as the recipient of Peter’s miracle. In this world, every person has a miracle within them, and one person for whom that miracle is intended. Pearly makes it his mission to kill Beverly before Peter can save her, thus denying him his miracle and the world hope in the face of encroaching evil.

What follows is the love story portion of the film, in which Peter wins over Beverly’s family, and the two of them fall deeper in love, finally consummating their love. After Beverly’s death, Peter returns to the city and faces off against Pearly and his men, where he is thrown off a bridge and into the river.

Crawling to shore, Peter lives without memory until the present day, when his memory finally begins to return. Realizing that Beverly has been dead for nearly 100 years, Peter is convinced that he has nothing left to do. Once Peter regains his memories, however, Pearly becomes aware of his presence again.

Having thought Peter dead, Pearly approaches Lucifer to find out why/how he can still be alive. Lucifer confirms that Pearly, so personally convinced that Peter’s was the miracle he had needed to stop, had forgotten about Beverly’s miracle. Peter’s immortality was her miracle, but for what purpose? Pearly begs permission from Lucifer to battle Peter to “the One, True Death.” Despite warnings and entreaties to reconsider, Pearly insists. Permission granted, Pearly pursues Peter to the home the mother (played by Jennifer Connelly) of a sick child, Abby, who helped him reconnect with his memories.

Realizing that Abby, a young red-headed dying of cancer, is the person he was meant to save, not Beverly, Peter takes her and flees to the Penn’s country estate where Beverly died. After a climactic battle with Pearly…

…Well, I won’t spoil the ending for you. You’ve read enough spoilers already. So here are my thoughts.

The acting in this film is great, all the way around. Russell Crowe is a scenery-chewing machine (in a good way), and really seems to relish his role here. Colin Farrell, whom I’m not normally a huge fan of, though I generally enjoy the movies he’s in, is also good. His portrayal of Peter, the reformed thief/love of Beverly’s life (and death), is very natural coming out of him and believable. Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly is perfect as the sheltered, dying, pure soul who could change even a man of Peter’s background. Even William Hurt, in his role as Beverly’s father, plays his interrogation of Peter and his intentions beautifully, dissecting his character with a quick wit and sharp tongue.

The costuming, cinematography, score, and special effects (yes, there are some), are all good.

My problem with the film is…it doesn’t come together for me at the end. All of the pieces are in place, but they never seemed to transcend into that “something bigger” that it aspires to be. Even the explanatory voiceovers seem to be included only to force the audience to see what the film should have been portraying all along, and the final bit of the film seemed a bit trite and forced.

In the end, Winter’s Tale seems to be exactly equal to the sum of its parts. While not damning, the film could have been so much more than that.

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