Forcing The Novel Winter’s Tale Into a Two Hour Movie Ruined a Good Book It Will Take a Netflix Series To Save It

Recrafting the Novel Winter's Tale to fit into a two hour movie ruined a good book. It can only be saved now by a Netflix series.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Winter’s Tale Is Too Much Story For A Movie. It Needs To Be A NetFlix Series

1 of 5 DangersOne out of Five Dangers

(DL) — How does one begin to unpack this mess? Winter’s Tale is far too much story for a movie, and not because of Helprin’s penchant for exposition. The source material is too expansive to have ever been attempted in a two-hour film.

It demands a long NetFlix series format to solve the damage this movie has done. Even if you are not a fan of the 1983 novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, this film is very bad.

Don’t Let the Movie Stop You From Reading the Novel

If you have not read the book, use this review as a reason to bypass the film! Read the book. Read only the book. If you dare watch the movie after reading the book you will understand that the screenplay is a huge departure from the intended story.

Perhaps even more important, you’ll understand what a horrible mess was made of the novel Winter’s Tale.

What Is Winter’s Tale?

The novel Winter’s Tale is a romance with a supernatural overtone bathed in a tribute to New York City. New York begins as a literal magical entity. It is a city that was once mystical but over time, it’s magic dims and fades — literally.

The story begins at a time where New York’s magic is just beginning to wane. It ends during our modern day. It is a beautiful journey through time.

Peter Lake Time Travels to Modern Day More Alone Than Ever
Peter Lake Time Travels to Modern Day More Alone Than Ever

None of the above was captured on film. In fact, it wasn’t communicated. New York as a character was left out of the film. I crucial element that you leave the film asking, “Did the director read the book or just get handed a screenplay?” 

Peter Arrives to Steal Beverly's... Heart
Peter Arrives to Steal Beverly’s… Heart

Sometimes verbose, often funny, the novel is heartfelt in its depiction of love. The movie —insults your intellect by ignoring the vast symbolism used in the book. Example: Time travel.

In the novel, certain characters have not aged through time, while the movie implies time travel as they are supernatural beings. It’s NOT correct. It destroys the essence and meaning of what the author intended. 

The Road To Ruin Is Paved On Good Intentions

You have to believe first time director Akiva Goldsman meant well but misinterpreting the time travel element hurt the film. He doesn’t get a bye for the next sin. Let’s get to what exactly ruined the Winter’s Tale.

Deviating from the author’s intent, turning the story into a devil’s agents interplay is awkward and out of place. The devil is NEVER once mentioned or implied in the original story. Yes, some devices are necessary for the film to help the audience, but the character Pearly Soames purpose as a protagonist in the film is reduced to silly.

Peter Lake Atop Grand Central Terminal
Peter Lake takes refuge atop Grand Central Terminal

Let’s Spoil Because It Can Only Help You Now

It’s the 1800s. Pearly Soames is a man. Just a man. He has a falling out with Peter and an ax to grind all on the premise of wounded pride. Pearly and his gang spend their free time trying to catch and kill Peter.

The film creates a new argument for Pearly and his need to kill Peter. It could have worked had the novel already established other very important rules in this magical alternate universe of New York City.

Pearly Soames and Peter Lake face off and showdown in lower Manhattan
Pearly Soames and Peter Lake face off and showdown in lower Manhattan

Pearly’s reason for chasing Peter (in the novel) had nothing to do with Peter’s love for Beverly. Pearly never met Beverly in the novel. In fact, in the novel, Beverly had the mystical ability to subdue Pearly and all his men when she was in the company of Peter Lake.

Peter & Beverly Riding Athansor
Peter Lake and Beverly Penn Ride the mythical Athansor in Winter’s Tale

Beverly had literal power to protect Peter. In the film, this trait and theme are abandoned. Here is one more spoiler as it too won’t be found in the film. Pearly’s purpose for chasing Peter Lake began the moment he forced Peter Lake into his employ and Peter later turned a huge heist against Pearly. Pearly’s gang was decimated for a time. From that day forward, Pearly’s will to kill Peter grew in every chase that left him empty-handed.

It’s A Romance About New York City And Of Two Young Lovers

Being sold as a straight-up romance or love story is almost a mistake. The story of Peter Lake’s universe is far more than Beverly Penn. The film makes a flimsy effort in trying to encompass the much larger story surrounding their love affair. Where time travel was painted too clearly to the moviegoer, the backstory of Peter Lake’s flying horse Athansor is lost. Calling Athansor Peter’s horse is not entirely true either. Read the book.

The Guardian Angel of Peter Lake – Athansor

Where Is Craig Binky?

The interplay of other characters in the story could have done a lot for this movie. The wildly funny malapropian newspaper editor named Craig Binky is nowhere to be found, along with a host of others.

The mythical lakeside village in upstate New York - Lake of the Coheeries. An Alfheim like Faerie Elfland
The mythical lakeside village in upstate New York – Lake of the Coheeries. An Alfheim like Faerie Elfland

Characters such as Virginia Gamely were altered ridiculously. Virginia was from the Lake of the Coheeries in the novel. In the film, she’s just another New Yorker.

The lack of the larger story is where the film falls apart.

The director’s vain effort to include the other threaded stories inside the book is convoluted. If you are going to add extra’s, add Craig Binky! What a huge fail!

Peter Lake's Vivid Memory of Beverly Penn on the sidewalk of Central Park
Peter Lake’s Vivid Memory of Beverly Penn on the sidewalk of Central Park

This Film Is No Valentine

Unless you have no other romantic film options for Valentine’s Day, it’s best you read the masterwork of Mark Helprin (despite his sometimes wordy and redundant descriptions of nature) and experience Winter’s Tale the movie at a later date.

Read the novel. You will get a taste of what the turn of the century 1900’s Manhattan could have been like. The film is a story with too many references without depth or explanation. It doesn’t offer enough depth in any part to invest you in its characters.

Maybe, and just maybe, if you are looking for a tear-jerker that’s the only reason to make this a Valentine movie.

More Pain For Fans of The Novel

Have you read the book and hoping to find elements such as the Cloud Wall, Rainbow Bridge, the Marshmen, Anarindas, Hardesty Marratta, Mootfowl, Jackson Mead, Cecil Mature (in name only), and numerous other key characters?

Athansor is not Peter Lake's Horse. He's his Guardian. A mythical horse of the Baymen's Lore
Athansor is not Peter Lake’s Horse. He’s his Guardian. A mythical horse of the Baymen’s Lore

This is not an adaptation of Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. It’s a screenplay written by director Akiva Goldsman that should have not been titled Winter Torched.

Some could argue this Winter’s Tale is an uncomplicated version of the book which focuses much closer on the love affair between two people from unequal backgrounds than the various supernatural elements in the novel. Simplifying the story in such a way destroyed what this could have been.

What Winter’s Tale Got Right

Yes, we are going here. Let’s get this film one Danger.

Alone on the mall in Central Park Peter Lake doesn’t feel alive in the modern day.
Alone on the mall in Central Park, Peter Lake doesn’t feel alive in the modern day.

The film accurately depicts Peter and Beverly’s, unexpected love. It takes place in the middle of each lover’s own troubles. It even gets the setting right. Colin Farrell is perfect as Peter Lake. That’s it. This may be all there is to what this film got right.

The screen couple is unfulfilled chemistry. Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths) and Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) work some, but the chemistry isn’t there.

Peter Lake and Beverly Penn
Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay look great but lack on-screen chemistry as Peter Lake & Beverly Penn in Winter’s Tale

Jessica Brown Findlay is a beautiful lady yet the curious lovers from two different worlds colliding into something beautiful are vacant on screen. What is strange is Jessica Brown Findlay does encompass what a reader would envision as Beverly Penn. Overall Findlay’s articulate speech is pointed but she feels a bit hollow.

Winter’s Tale Has Two Audiences Both Will Be Let Down

There are two audiences for Winter’s Tale. Aficionados of Mark Helprin’s 1983 New York Time’s Best Seller, and your typical movie enthusiast interested in a romance. In most cases, one or the other is let down. Here, both receive equal fare of distaste.

You may feel it’s unfair to compare a film to a book. But it’s inevitable when a movie is an adaptation.

Rest assured this evaluation of Winter’s Tale as a film is on its own merit. Despite knowing many of the characters and subplots in the book are omitted Winter’s Tale is being graded for the story the director offered.

Where In the F#! is Craig Binky?

The director took Craig Binky away but gave us two new characters. Why?

Substitutions in film from books must be made all the time and are to be expected. But they should only be changes that do not detract from the path the author took the reader on in the printed version. When you do, you risk veering so far off course in a screenplay that it not only misrepresents the story’s intent, it can fail as a story.

The Lake of the Coheeries in the film is no longer plays the role of Elfland

Where Is the Intelligence of the Novel?

Take for instance dialogue from the book. The only dialogue from the novel that survives is a serious conversation with inadvertent humor between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn’s father Isaac Penn. It’s your typical, “What are your intentions with my daughter,” conversation that breathes real life into these characters on screen. Using less than one percent of a book’s actual dialogue hardly deserves being called a movie adaptation.

Beverly and Peter In the sun lightDon’t Get Angry. Just Stop Watching The Film

When you use the same title as a book for a movie it’s wise to make an honest adaptation, otherwise, change the name of the movie from the book entirely to avoid comparisons entirely. Then follow the guide of placing in the credits, “based on the story Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.”

Director Akiva Goldsman (also wrote the screenplay) zig-zagged across both these traditional paths and the story suffered in his mash-up. Change a characters hair color, but don’t change their role or destiny.

In Case You Make It Through The Film

Here are a few trivial changes that book readers will want to know.

  • Lake of the Coheeries is no longer a village but a single location.
  • Virginia Gamely has no relations, nor is she from Lake of the Coheeries.
  • You won’t see Peter Lake throw Short Tails.
  • No cloud wall. So no explanation as to how Peter time travels.
  • Beverly’s ability to subdue and protect Peter is removed. Worth repeating.
The mythical lakeside village in upstate New York - Lake of the Coheeries. An Alfheim like Faerie Elfland
The mythical lakeside village in upstate New York – Lake of the Coheeries. An Alfheim like Faerie Elfland

Winter’s Tale isn’t even a director’s interpretation. The book weaves a subtle supernatural element that may be so vague that the director believed it had to be made overtly obvious to viewers.

In doing so, he dumbs down the original story to the point it insults the audience, (definitely the readers) holding their hand and telling them what to think as opposed to letting the moviegoer figure things out.

Must We Continue To Praise The Novel? Yes!

It’s an epic tale, weaving a mystical post-Victorian age Manhattan with a contemporary version that lost its soul. The novel conveys this flawlessly. Remember, New York in this story literally bristles with magic in the 1800s and is gone by 2000.

The film counterpart simply bounces us back and forth over the 100-year time span in the first five minutes. Colin Farrell is Peter Lake, a future Peter. You know this because his hair is long. And the surroundings.

He’s lost his memory of his past self. The director doesn’t communicate this well at all on screen. So it is unclear to the audience Peter is flashing back to his life in the turn of the century 1900 New York.

Grand Central Terminal Was Not Built Until 1913 - Continuity Error
Grand Central Terminal Was Not Built Until 1913 – Continuity Error

To augment the screw-up, the flashback you get has a huge continuity error. The flashback would have you believe Peter Lake knew his infant childhood, yet no one could pass his story onto him.

Jump cut. Now we find a young couple from Europe being rejected entry into New York due to the mother’s illness of ‘consumption’ (terminal stage of tuberculosis). In a move reminiscent of Moses in the bible being given up by his mother, Peter Lake’s parents drop him overboard their ship before it returns to Europe in a small hollowed out replica sailboat. Yes. This was in the book.

Peter Lake & Beverly Penn are literally Star Crossed Lovers in Winter's Tale
Peter Lake & Beverly Penn are literally Star Crossed Lovers in Winter’s Tale

Netflix Would Come In Handy About Now

However, in the book you receive an entire backstory to Peter Lake’s life, investing you in his endearing innocence and kindness in spite of his hardships. That character arc is absent in the film, making it somewhat difficult to appreciate the man he becomes when he meets his star crossed lover, Beverly Penn.

Let’s Not Actually Spoil The Movie

The manner in how Peter and Beverly meet won’t be divulged in this review. How they meet and how that meeting evolves is much different in the original words. But that’s to be expected, the movie has only a couple hours to compress a lot of detail.

Where the director attempts to either pay homage to points in the book or integrate key motivational concerns they become convoluted by the drastic additions he made to the overall story.

Yet as you are also immediately introduced to the antagonist, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), there is a huge alteration to how he and Peter Lake arrived at their differences.

Pearly Soames and Peter Lake at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge
Pearly Soames and Peter Lake at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge

Once again, Netflix would have saved this film from harsh reviews because it would be a seven, ten, or 13 episode series.

Regardless if that was done or not this story just feels forced and flimsy. The motivation of why Pearly Soames wants to kill Peter Lake is left out of the movie completely! The only clue you get as a moviegoer is that Peter Lake was taken under Pearly’s wing and Peter one day turned on him. Well, that is actually true.

Pearly Soames Short Tails Trap Peter and Athansor on the Brooklyn Bridge
Pearly Soames Short Tails Trap Peter and Athansor on the Brooklyn Bridge

Winter’s Tale is condensed, filtered and sanitized of its soul. Even without having read the novel, evidence of awkward changes for the screenplay dumb down the original subtle supernatural theme which was ironically as clear in its message as it was abstract in its delivery.

Yes —  once again it has to be said the addition of Pearly Soames interplay with Lucifer is forced to a point that it doesn’t fit into the rest of the story. Leaving it out altogether would have improved the movie.

In the director’s attempt to pay tribute to every player and subplot left out, he accomplishes the opposite. Forced guidance such as spelling out that Pearly Soames is a demon disrespects the audience’s intellect.

Peter Lake Remembers Beverly Penn
Peter Lake Remembers Beverly Penn

As a romance film, there are heartfelt moments and the chemistry between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn. One scene does have enough strength to bring a tear to some audience members. Colin Farrell’s soft humanity is felt quite often too. There is one candid conversation among the two men Peter Lake and Isaac Penn which draws an intellectual laugh.  That is the only humor to break up the tension in the film.

The director goes straight for the cliche as if the only way this story would sell is if we obey the rule of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back in the end.

The outcome of almost every character in the book was the opposite in the film. It can’t be emphasized enough, the story took the story —  followed it through and made every character different with different ends in their lives.

Winter’s Tale Needs To Be A Netflix Series

Winter’s Tale is a complex supernatural love story with too many important characters to have fit into a short two or three-hour film. It’s not written in a manner that could ever translate into a part one and part two series either.

Its best medium will one day be a mini-series. Netflix, Amazon, who knows. But it would this is five to eight-episode story. It’s often said that the journey is the reward and the story of Winter’s Tale is a long journey that cannot be condensed. In this case, spotlighting one part of the journey is not fulfilling either. It just pisses people off.

One Last Homage to The Novel

Let’s just make one thing clear to anyone that has neither read the book nor seen the movie. The love story in this film takes place in the first quarter of the novel.

There are three remaining quarters to the story that thread the love story of Peter Lake and Beverly Penn into the overall journey, but their story is told early and ends early. Well, that’s not entirely true. And yet it is. Now for all those clues and a tease, don’t you just wonder what a book that has three quarters more to say — has to say?

Cast: Peter Lake / Colin Farrell, Beverly Penn / Jessica Brown Findlay, Virginia Gamely / Jennifer Connelly, Pearly Soames / Russell Crowe
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Author: Mark Helprin
Writer: Akiva Goldsman
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes