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Originally published February 13, 2014 at 12:06 AM | Page modified February 13, 2014 at 1:16 PM

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‘Winter’s Tale’: an echo of ‘Downton,’ minus the fun

A two-star review of the romantic drama “Winter’s Tale,” starring a charming Colin Farrell, with Jessica Brown Findlay in a role perhaps too similar to that of Lady Sybil in “Downton Abbey.”

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2 stars

‘Winter’s Tale,’ with Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint. Written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Mark Helprin. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. Several theaters.

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Jessica Brown Findlay, the exquisitely whiskey-voiced British actress, appears to be stuck in a strangely specific career rut: that of playing wealthy, independent-minded young women of the World War I era who fall in love with smooth-talking Irish working-class men and then, after modeling a series of lovely outfits and striking hairstyles, meet a tragic end. She did this quite nicely as Lady Sybil on TV’s “Downton Abbey,” and audiences can’t help noticing that she’s doing it again in “Winter’s Tale,” with the primary difference being that here she’s a redhead, and we’re having a lot less fun.

A very, very loose adaptation of Mark Helprin’s acclaimed 1983 novel, “Winter’s Tale” is a romantic drama set in New York in 1895, 1916 and 2014, centering on a love story between a thief (Colin Farrell) and a young heiress dying of consumption (Brown Findlay). It’s a pretty film full of magic and miracles — a flying horse, a child saved, a man made immortal by love, a mortal character who by my count is at least 104 years old but still working as a newspaper editor — but, alas, it just doesn’t gel.

Writer/director Akiva Goldsman has a palpable fondness for the material, and Farrell’s gentle Irish charm almost sells the whole thing — but what works when quietly unfolding over a nearly 800-page novel seems too often silly when distilled into a feature film. Too many of the characters just don’t make sense (several, such as William Hurt’s and Russell Crowe’s, seem drastically edited), and too often the filmmaking is visually beautiful without ever being distinctive. (Except for the flying horse, which just looks cheap.)

Perhaps “Winter’s Tale” needed to be a miniseries, with more room for the characters to breathe. Perhaps this is just one of those cases where a screenwriter, with the best of intentions, left the magic on the page. And perhaps Brown Findlay, who’s radiantly lovely here, will try a different kind of role next time. Lady Sybil really should be resting in peace.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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