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A New York’s Winter Tale – Review

February 20, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


I lost count of the times I’ve seen “love” and “destiny” going together in a Hollywood film. The two concepts are often forcedly connected, and perhaps this is the first reason that makes Winter’s Tale (released in the United Kingdom as A New York Winter’s Tale) a complete disappointment. The film is adapted from a 1983 book written by novelist, journalist and conservative commentator Mark Helprin: a tale of considerable success, which gained a large number of admirers over the years. Its fame could explain why so many stars got involved in the project, turning the film into a showcase of well-known faces: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith, William Hurt. Even Martin Scorsese was rumored to have shown interest. Unfortunately, it takes more than good intentions and a slew of celebrities to guarantee quality.

A New York Winter’s Tale wants us to think that our destinies are all entwined, like the stars in the sky. In 1915’s New York, thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) flees from his mortal enemy, the evil Pearly Soames (Crowe). He only escapes thanks to the appeareance of a white horse, whose supernatural nature is portrayed with a ridiculous amount of glare on the screen. The plot unfolds, leading Peter to meet beautiful Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a deathly ill but cheerful heiress, whom he irrevocably falls in love with after she cracks half a smile and blinks a couple of times. Is he the miracle she was waiting for? Will their love be enough to defeat death?

Their purity will clash with the viciousness surrounding Soames’s gang, secretly at the service of Lucifer (a very awkward Will Smith, whose interludes with Crowe are often source of embarrassment). Peter and Beverly, instead, are the obvious personification of Good; after all, he’s the handsome knight on a white horse. This game of metaphors runs parallel to the agonising love story, always hinting at the existence of a greater plan that shapes everyone’s destiny. However, the masterplan only works as a good ol’ deus-ex-machina, designed specifically for the protagonists. Even when the setting magically changes to today’s New York, and the film drops the cheesy trash of the first half to pick up a livelier pace, it still fails to address its main themes with credibility and coherence.


A New York Winter’s Tale’s many flaws are all direct results of its poor screenplay (written by first-time director Akiva Goldsman), and a chaotic, at times ludicrous structure. The vagueness and silliness of the supernatural element is the final straw in a story packed with preconceptions about love and sacrifice; the script too often belittles profound themes and concepts, labelling them as mere manifestations of “magic” and “miracle”. The magic of the right man in the right place. The miracle of life. If there’s a magic connection that links us all, in an inexplicable and immense network, I very much doubt its sole purpose is to get you a cute boyfriend. Even so, many in the audience were genuinely moved at the end of the film, showing that, despite it all, it hits its specific target of hopeless romantics. If this doesn’t sound like you, steer clear.

A New York Winter’s Tale is released in UK cinemas on Friday, February 21st.

Davide Prevarin