A New York Winter’s Tale


‘…a lush, literary, woolly-headed confection that has to be seen to be believed…’

Also known as A Winter’s Tale, aka That Awful All-Star Magic Horse Movie, this 2014 shambles must be verging on cult status by now; widely stream-able in 2020, it’s a lush, literary, woolly-headed confection that truly has to be seen to be believed. Written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, the ice-kicking creative force held responsible for universally agreed cultural low-point Batman and Robin, it’s an adaptation of Mark Helprin’s fantasy novel, and one that notably fails to demonstrate how the concept of magical realism might work in modern movies. While truly terrible in every possible way, it gets a three star review for sheer comedy value; everyone is playing out of position here, and there’s plenty of WTF moments to keep the casual viewer in stitches.

The setting is New York, and an orphaned child grows up to be Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a cat burglar with a ridiculous Shed Seven hairstyle, a penchant for ladies and a magic flying horse (called Horse) which he uses to escape from bowler-hatted local thug Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, not even trying). Lake falls for Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) a woman dying of consumption who, for medical reasons that are not clear, sleeps in a gazebo on the freezing-cold roof of her posho family residence during the dead of winter. Her publisher father Isaac (William Hurt) takes a shine to Peter Lake because of his deft touch with furnaces, but Soames threatens Beverly’s life with a magic potion that he picks up from demonic overlord Lucifer (Will Smith with an earring, I kid you not). A hundred years of torment later, Jennifer Connolly has a dying child who runs smack into Colin Farrell’s crotch while playing in a snowy Central Park, and they take her to see Eva Marie Saint, who….

That plot summary quickly collapses into gobbledygook, but accurately reflects the confused and confusing nature of this expensive looking but extremely stupid movie. I’m a fan of Crowe, but he’s simply terrible here, muttering his lines in an Irish accent that sounds like the world’s drunkest leprechaun murmuring into his pint. Only Hurt and Saint rise above the mayhem to actually score any points on the board, and it’s remarkable to see such an assembly of talents all at sea. Spoiler alert! Pearly’s knuckle-headed endgame involves parking a dozen vans full of henchmen on extremely thin ice before Lake’s magic horse melts it. This must be the nadir of bad-guy thinking for all time; no super-villain has ever managed such incompetence.

And yet…this film reeks of ambition, and the text it’s based on is, or at least was until this turkey hit the screen, well regarded. The NYC backgrounds are lovely to look at, and the faux poetry of the dialogue has the appeal of the cheapest of cheap sentiment. As a serious film, this is a non-starter, but as a record of how a massive budget can be wasted, A New York Winter’s Tale is a free-way pile-up well worth rubber-necking. Tempted? Here’s a sample of the kind of florid dialogue you’ll hear, read by Will Smith in a career low even for Will Smith.

Now? You have no idea what “now” is. Now, I was flying. Now, I breathed fire and I ate them as they fled. Now, I whipped my tail and the winds trembled. Now, I am hidden in this pale shade of flesh and bone. Now, I am witness to man’s eternal salvation, now I am witness to his demise. Do NOT speak to me of time, demon! It’s simplest ebbs and turns elude your meagre understanding! Find another way, Now!’


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  1. I watched this thinking it would be up my alley and I was wrong. It was two separate movies lazily edited into one. I think it should have been done so that the narrative jumped between the past and present.

    • I dare you to watch this, free on Netflix and Prime last time I looked, big stars, lots of money, what could go wrong….

    • Oh yes, you’re right, maybe there’s something about Colin Farrell and horses, I’ll start theorising now…

    • It IS a lovely horse. There’s a nice one in War Horse too, Tom Middleton draws a nice picture of one, when I saw it at the cinema, several people broke out into the classic Father Ted song. Colin’s horse can fly to, it’s a magic lovely horse!

  2. You said it best “so many WTF moments…” applies to both book and movie; only book of his I’d recommend is early one, Refiner’s Fire. Excellent summing up of this flying donkey’s cousin of a flick!

    • Aha, wondered if I was missing something from the book, I’ll note down the one worth reading and have a look. There’s something interesting about this kind of myth-making, even if ther ingrediants defiantly refuse to get in this film….

  3. I must admit, I take extreme umbrage at you handing out medical advice on your movie blog. As a medical man myself, I ALWAYS tell my consumptive patients to sleep outdoors on the roofs in the winter. All that fresh air you know.

    I’ve heard of Helprin’s name but never tried any of his books. They’re outside the genres I tend to frequent. I definitely try to not judge books and authors by any movies based on their works. Especially when that movie is made by the same people who made B&R. THAT was a travesty of a film.

    That haircut of Farrell’s is something else! If I was an actor, I’d just shave my head and use wigs.

    • Agree with all your points. Would love to hear from anyone who understands why a consumptive would sleep in a tent on the roof in winter. And there’s no excuse for that barnet. None.

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