Winter’s Tale – What Could Have Been (part 2)

Winter’s Tale – What Could Have Been (part 2)

Following up on my post a couple of weeks ago about the “Winter’s Tale” movie, and the many things wrong with it, I promised to go into detail as to how I would have done it differently.  As with the previous post, there are spoilers aplenty here (and very little in the way of comprehension if you’re not familiar with the book).

The first thing I have to admit is, I’m going to take liberties with the book, just as the actual film did – but hopefully to better effect. So let’s begin.  First, though, let’s recap our main cast:

Peter Lake – Tom Hiddleston (he was up for the part in the first place, and a much better choice than Colin Farrell)

Beverly Penn – Jessica Brown-Findlay (just as in the actual film)

Pearly Soames – Russell Crowe (again, as in the actual film)

Cecil Woolley/Mr. Cecil Mature – Jonah Hill (it’s kind of a comic role, and Hill fits it physically, too)

Isaac Penn – Anthony Hopkins

The Very Reverend Mootfowl – William Hurt (since I fired him from the role of Isaac Penn that he had in the actual film, it’s only fair – and he’d work better in this role anyway)

Jackson Mead – James Cromwell (he’s got the gravitas to play the role, plus he’s 6’6″, which is helpful considering the description of Mead in the book)

Virginia Gamely – Jennifer Connolly (as in the actual film)

Hardesty Marratta – Bradley Cooper (he’s the Big New Thing in Hollywood, and he can actually act, so why not?)

Sarah Gamely – Kim Novak (she hasn’t acted on screen in 20+ years, but this is fantasy anyway, so let’s go with it.  Besides, she’s only going to be on-screen for two minutes)

Willa Penn – Eva Marie Saint (no reason to recast her from the actual film)


We open the film following a ragged man, who we’ll learn a little later is Peter Lake, into a movie theater, in the year 1916 (we’ll have an on-screen title to let the audience know the date).  We get a view of WWI-era New York City as he does so, and then, once he’s inside and seated, the theater’s screen fills up our screen, too, and we see what Peter’s seeing (this comes from the chapter titled “Aceldama”, at the very end of Part One of the novel).  On the movie screen is an almost unbelievable portrait, entitled “The City in the Third Millennium”  It’s a magical view of a futuristic city with buildings stretching above the clouds, tiny lighted vehicles flying to and fro, etc.  It’s clearly New York, and yet it’s also clearly not precisely the New York we know. That image fades, replaced by another image, this one almost apocalyptic, entitled “As the City of the Future Burns”, and that then fades out, into the credits. Over this scene, we have a Voiceover (Eva Marie Saint, although the audience doesn’t yet know who she is) narrating about the Cloud Wall, and the way that it is a physical representation of the invisible connections between past, present and future…

(Why open with this? The movie scene seems like it could be easily dropped, but I think it’s a good way to set up the themes of connections across time, and also to firmly emphasize that this story takes place in a fantastical version of New York. And we’ll revisit The City in the Third Millennium a little later)

We cut to the credits, which play over a short montage of a ship (the City of Justice) coming into New York Harbor.  We see it dock, and a procession of poorly-dressed, half-starved passengers emerge onto an island – heading to be processed for immigration.  We focus in on a young couple with a baby.  In quick, dialogue-less shots, we follow them in, and then back out again to the ship (a title tells us that this is happening in 1880).  Back aboard ship, the couple despairs, until the father kicks in a door and sees a miniature model of the ship.  He takes the model, and turns it into a tiny vessel in which to place their son.  The couple lower their child into the water, in hopes he will find a place in the new world that they cannot enter (we’ll take the dialogue straight from the book as they say goodbye to their son, the baby who will become Peter Lake). This will take up maybe 5 minutes.

(this is a little out of order from the book, but the book itself jumps around with flashbacks and digressions, so I’m not too worried about it)

Now we have another montage – Peter drifts into the Bayonne Marsh, where he’s found by the native Baymen and raised as one of them for his first twelve years (definitely including the brief scene where Peter first learns to use a sword), and culminating in the Baymen sending him away, to Manhattan.  There are more very quick scenes showing his arrival, meeting the spielers and eventually being picked up by the police and brought to Reverend Overweary’s home.

(the book handles this fairly quickly, too.  The one thing I’m dropping is Anarinda – and the sexual content of the scenes with the spielers.  I don’t think we really need it, and considering how old Peter is in these scenes, it would get us an NC-17 rating, so out it goes)

We slow down a bit here, to showcase Peter learning to become a mechanic, and meeting Cecil Woolley and working under the Very Reverend Mootfowl. The montage ends with the failed “audition” with Jackson Mead, followed immediately by Mootfowl’s apparent suicide. This, plus the previous montage, takes up 10-15 minutes or so.

(I think we absolutely need Peter’s training as a mechanic.  And if we’re going to include Jackson Mead later, we need to set him up, as well as Mootfowl.  And it gives us a bit of humor, with Cecil’s disastrous efforts to try and carry out Jackson Mead’s instructions in the audition)

Now Peter and Cecil meet up with Pearly Soames. We keep the scene where they meet and are recruited verbatim from the book, and then another montage as Peter becomes a Short Tail and learns the various arts of burglary and petty crime. It’s not a long sequence, and it leads into the Short Tails meeting in the Cemetery of the Honored Dead, Pearly’s plan to steal a ship full of gold and build his golden room, and Peter’s betrayal of his boss. This is such a fantastic scene, we have to keep it in. We cut straight from the meeting, to the fight on the Bayonne Marsh where Pearly realizes Peter has double-crossed him to protect the Baymen. This takes 20-25 minutes.

(this was a huge failing of the actual film – the Cemetery of the Honored Dead is so cinematic, I can’t believe they didn’t include it.  And it establishes Pearly as very clearly insane, which I think is an important point to bring out.  Yes, he’s a villain, but he’s also got quite a lot going on that’s worth watching)

And now, after 40-50 minutes, we’re back at chapter one, with the Short Tails chasing Peter, and him being rescued by Athansor, the white horse. We quickly move to Peter’s plan to pull off one big robbery and then use the horse to run to ground away from Manhattan, where the urbanified Short Tails generally don’t venture from.

(if at all possible, we keep the Oyster Bar scene, because I love the dialogue between Peter and the lawyer).

This big score, of course, will be the Penn mansion, and we follow the book exactly as Peter meets Beverly Penn. Their courtship follows the book, and they journey to the Penn house upstate in Lake of the Coheeries. We’ll edit a bit there for pacing, but keep the first meeting between Peter and Isaac Penn. Then it’s back to Manhattan. We’ll have the scene at the Penn mansion where Beverly distracts the attention of the Chief of Police from Peter by showing him the new painting in the basement. This, of course, is The City in the Third Millennium from the opening, this time in glorious color. Then we have Peter and Beverly’s argument over whether she’s well enough to go out dancing on New Year’s Eve. Of course, they go, and Beverly’s dancing (just as in the book) transfixes Pearly Soames, who’s there to kill Peter. Beverly dies shortly thereafter, and we go straight from the funeral to a heartbroken and defeated Peter wandering the streets of Manhattan, and finally walking out of the movie theater from the opening scene.  The very next scene is Peter’s confrontation with Pearly on the Brooklyn Bridge, where he and Athansor jump off and vanish into the white Cloud Wall. This all takes 30-40 minutes.

(for the most part, we keep things as they happen in the book.  What do we lose?  Peter’s trip back to the Bayonne Marsh; Jayga the servant and her story to the police; the introduction to Beverly and the Penns, and the optometrist, and some of what happens at Lake of the Coheeries.  Losing that first scene with the Penns is a hard choice, but I kind of like the idea of the audience first meeting Beverly at the same time that Peter does.  And we can move the dialogue about her disease into the boat/sleigh journey up to Lake of the Coheeries.  We also have to lose Peter’s visit to the hospital, and shorten or cut out most of his post-Beverly scenes).

So that’s the first half of the film. We’re somewhere between 70 and 90 minutes, and not quite halfway done.  This is where we have our intermission, and when we return, we’re in the final years of the 20th century.

We open the second half of the film in Lake of the Coheeries, with Virginia Gamely and her mother Sarah.  We see Virginia dream, and in the dream she’s in Manhattan, in the Penn mansion, and a man and a woman are leading her down stairs into the basement to view a painting (the City in the Third Millennium, of course).  Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Hardesty Marratta is also dreaming, and in his dream, the same woman Virginia dreamed about is leading Hardesty and Virginia down the stairs to see the painting, as well.  This is maybe 5-10 minutes.

(this is a change/addition to the book.  I think, sadly, we need to lose Hardesty’s journey across the country and visit to Lake of the Coheeries.  But we sill need his connection to Virginia, and this seems like an efficient way to handle that.  I hate losing Jesse Honey, and the poker game on the train, but we only have so much time to tell the story.  We’re also dropping Praeger de Pinto and giving some of his role to Hardesty).

Back in Lake of the Coheeries, Virginia wakes up, remembers her dream, and knows she needs to go to Manhattan.  She and her baby Martin set off, and we follow her in a montage as she travels on skates and by boat, until she gets to Grand Central Station.  There she meets the woman from her dream, Jessica Penn, and Jessica invites Virginia to join her at dinner with the staff of The Sun.  There she meets Hardesty, who’s the editor in chief, and all the other editors.  We’ll keep this scene as close to the book as possible, but we’ll include Asbury Gunwillow and Christiana in the scene, too

(I don’t want to lose Asbury and Christiana entirely, but we don’t have the time to tell their full story)

From dinner, we follow Virginia, Hardesty and Jessica back to the Penn mansion, where Virginia will stay for the night.  Also at the mansion is the owner of The Sun, Willa Penn, who suggests that Jessica show Virginia and Hardesty the painting in the basement.  That happens exactly as in both Virginia and Hardesty’s dreams.  This, combined with the previous scene, takes 10 minutes or so.

(as noted above, I have no problem with using Willa to replace Harry Penn in the story.  It doesn’t hurt anything and lets us use Eva Marie Saint, so why not?)

We get a montage of Virginia and Hardesty’s romance, 5 minutes or so, including their marriage, the birth of Abby and ending with the 150th anniversary celebration of The Sun, with the reappearance of the Cloud Wall.

Next we jump to later that night, and Peter Lake plummeting from the sky into New York Harbor to be retrieved by a ferry and its crew.  We follow Peter back to shore and then to the hospital, and we keep those scenes as they are in the book, with one addition.  After the red-haired doctor knocks him out, he dreams, first a celestial vision of Beverly, and then a more realistic vision, of a white horse crashing into the sea just as he did, and a young girl – a young Christiana – running into the water to the horse).  Then Peter wakes up, realizes he’s not in 1916 anymore, and sees the modern city for the first time.  This is probably 10 minutes.

(again, I’m using dreams to link characters together.  It’s kind of a cliche, but I don’t see any other way to do it quickly)

At this point, we’re somewhere between 100 and 125 minutes.  With a goal of 185 minutes for our running time, that gives us 60-85 minutes to tell the rest of the story.  Onwards!

We have a few quick shots of Peter’s life after he gets out of the hospital, living on the streets, becoming a derelict.  Then we join the staff of the Sun (including Hardesty, Virginia and Willa Penn) at Petipas, where they’re having a monthly dinner.  They’re interrupted by an encounter with Peter Lake, who’s barely recognizable at this point (exactly as in the book), and then, after he departs, they’re all stunned by the arrival of Jackson Mead’s great ship.  We see him on the bridge, along with Cecil and the Reverend Mootfowl.


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