‘Winter’s Tale’ review: Romance plus magical mumbo jumbo

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'Winter's Tale' review: Colin Farrell as Peter Lake and Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverley Penn in Winter's Tale
Colin Farrell as Peter Lake and Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverley Penn in Winter’s Tale

Movie synopsis

In a mythic New York City, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a middle-aged thief and master mechanic, breaks into a wealthy house and meets young, dying heiress Beverley Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), whom he falls in love with. Weaved around their star-crossed love, in a miraculous tale that spans more than a century, is an age-old battle between good and evil among the magical inhabitants of the city. Based on the bestselling fantasy novel of the same name by Mark Helprin.

Winter’s Tale review in a nutshell

I hear that the book was very well-received. It should have stayed a book.

Would I recommend you watch it?

Unless you REALLY love romance films, and can stand the cheese oozing out of this one, stay away.

Click here to jump to the bottom for where you can watch Winter’s Tale.

Or continue reading for a full review with some spoilers.

Full review of Winter’s Tale (with some spoilers)

Winter’s Tale — and don’t mistake it for Shakespeare’s play, like my friend did — is an old-fashioned fantasy supernatural romance of a sort that hasn’t been seen in quite a while. (I can’t even recall the last fantasy romance I saw. Enchanted, maybe? But Disney movies are in a category all on their own, so I don’t really count it as that.) There’s a love that transcends time and class boundaries — literally, since Colin Farrell’s lower-class thief Peter Lake somehow finds himself in the modern day after his heiress lover Beverley Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) dies of consumption a hundred years before the present; there’s good vs. evil, with the latter personified by Russell Crowe’s sinister, scarred Pearly Soames; and there’re also period costumes.

So it *might* be considered the perfect movie for date night, with a release date that targets the Valentine’s Day crowd — if your idea of “perfect” includes mystical mumbo jumbo about the universe conspiring to do things for you, and human-made beds that turn magical through the power of belief from precocious little girls (but only if it is destiny), etc.

Colin Farrell (Peter Lake), Jennifer Connelly (Virginia Gamely), and a magical horse in Winter's Tale
Colin Farrell (Peter Lake), Jennifer Connelly (Virginia Gamely), and a magical horse in Winter’s Tale

I’m all for fairytales and romance and everything, but this fairytale should have stayed a book. The magical elements weren’t convincing, because, well, they sounded like cringy nonsense. The voiceover narration could have come straight out of the mouths of one of those fairground mystics with their tarot cards, tea leaves, and other assorted gobbledygook.

Also, they set it in our world while making it not really our world at the same time. It felt like a world that half believed in magic, in that it accepted some things readily (e.g. Russell Crowe as a demon), yet was surprised at other forms of magic (re: winged horses). Really? You’re already one foot in this fantasy world, why stop there? (Also, the movie doesn’t bother to explain where said winged horse came from, or why it took to Colin Farrell’s character.)

The math of the movie didn’t add up well either, because I’m skeptical of Beverley’s little sister — played by a too saccharine sweet Willa Holland for the younger version, and Eva Marie Saint for the older one — living beyond a hundred years and still being as energetic as she looks. The time-lapse was unexplained too: did Peter Lake live for a hundred years, or did he wake up a hundred years later?

Questions, schmuestions.

Russell Crowe as insane gangster/demon Pearly Soames in Winters Tale
Russell Crowe as insane gangster/demon Pearly Soames in Winter’s Tale

Colin Farrell looked like he was sleepwalking through the movie. I hated how flat and greasy his hair and its ugly centre parting. (Why did they make such a handsome man have this horrible of a hairstyle? :S Ughh.) Russell Crowe was grunting, glaring and chomping at the bit. (His first of two movies that year where he does that. Unfortunately, his second movie was no better than this, though for different reasons.) William Hurt gave a standard, but almost bored performance, while Jennifer Connelly looked surprised to be in the movie. And Will Smith is just a surprise. Jessica Brown Findlay, best known for playing the lovely, spirited and tragically short-lived Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey — a role in which her character in this movie is remarkably similar to — was the only one who looked alive.

All of them except Jessica Brown Findlay have worked with Akiva Goldsman before, for whom Winter’s Tale is his first big feature as a director — he’s usually a writer or producer — so I suspect they might have taken on the movie as a favour to him. But honestly, did they read the script first?

And they MUMBLED their lines, especially Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe with their thick accents. I swear I only caught 50 percent of what they said, and the fact that their lines were drivel half the time just made deciphering what they were saying worse.

The Valentine’s Day crowd may help it, but I predict it won’t do well, especially with movie critics chiming in with understandably terrible reviews. It just didn’t feel like a quality production, which is disappointing, because I had been excited about it. The synopsis sounded much better than what it turned out to be.

The trailer also misled me into thinking it wasn’t all that bad. :S

Where to watch Winter’s Tale

Streaming services: Winter’s Tale is not on Netflix Singapore or US, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu or any other streaming services. However, it might be on Netflix (UK) and Amazon Prime Video (UK).

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

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