Thoughts on A New York Winter’s Tale (2014)

A New York Winter’s Tale

A New York Winter’s Tale is a modern fairy tale film based on the 1983 book by Mark Helprin. The film has apparently received generally negative reviews. It is strongly criticized for its ‘seriousness and lack of realism’ which is quite surprising given the fact the film is categorized as fantasy. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that the majority of the audience hasn’t been able to make ‘the jump’ into the fantasy genre and its need for a momentary suspension of disbelief. And this may be easier to do when watching a fairy tale film meant for a younger audience; as I talked about in a previous post, grown-ups may sometimes find it hard to admit their enjoyment for these sort of marvelous, wondrous films where it is necessary to believe in magic (temporarily) for the story to make sense. A quote from professor Steve Neale explains this idea well: he states that adult fantasy viewers “have often to disown their enjoyment by maintaining that such genres – and such pleasures – are not really for them, but for children, teenagers, others less ‘responsible’ than they are themselves”. And I do believe that this particular film’s target audience was more ‘grown up’ orientated. However this may only be part of the problem.


The story takes place in two different time periods: New York in 1916 and, a century later, in 2014. There is this idea that everyone one of us carries a miracle inside us, and that once we die, we become stars. The story is not only about love, but also about these miracles and the fight against Evil. Like in all fairy tales, there is only Good and Evil and the story features the devil himself, demons and angels. The hero is a common thief, a very ordinary individual hunted down by who he believes is his former gang leader, in reality a demon. He is one day assisted by a mysterious white horse who becomes his trusted companion and is later revealed as his guardian angel. When the thief Peter Lake, falls in love with Beverly Penn, the demon (Pearly Soames) believes it is possible to tip the balance between Good and Evil towards the latter by killing her. After her death, Pearly ambushes Peter and tries to kill him by pushing him off the Brooklyn Bridge. Peter survives albeit without memories and wanders around for a hundred years until he meets a little girl named Abby. He slowly regains his memory with the help of said girl’s mother. We then learn it was Beverly’s miracle which kept Peter alive for so long in the hope he may be able to save Abby’s life, who has cancer. He eventually defeats Pearly and saves the little girl. At the end, he gallops through the streets of New York on the white horse, leaping into the air and flying towards the stars where he rejoins Beverly.

It is clear that the story regroups many elements of fairy tales such as the idea of miracles, the fight between Good and Evil, love that lasts through time as well as a magical companion who helps the hero on his journey. There is also a scene in which Beverly’s little sister tells Peter he can save her if he brings her to a seemingly magical bed in the greenhouse and gives her a kiss of true love. Although the love story does not end happily, it is suggested at the end that they do end up together as stars, side by side for eternity. The model the story follows is close to a fairy tale as its protagonist is not a supernatural being, but an ordinary man the audience can relate to, to whom happens extraordinary things. It is through many hard trials that he understands what is his place in the world and what he is meant to do. Eventually, after fulfilling his destiny, he is rewarded with a happy ending.

I personally found the film entertaining and the story, not only beautiful but also very original. However what may appeal to the majority of the audience in fairy tales is the fact they are timeless stories and hence, they can relate to these through events of their childhood, reminiscing a time when life was simpler and more carefree. However in the case of A New York Winter’s Tale, it is not a well known timeless story; which is why the audience may have had difficulty believing in the plot and relating to characters they have never heard of. The story asks a lot a of its audience, not only must we believe that magic exists, that miracles do happen, we must also acknowledge the existence of Good and Evil represented with angels and demons (Lucifer himself makes an appearance). Perhaps, modern fairy tales set in our world, in modern times make the story harder to believe as the world depicted is not twisted or exaggerated. The streets of New York, Grand Central Station, the whole city is depicted realistically, even the two protagonists are ordinary people; hence having all these magical elements intruding in their lives may be hard to believe.


From an artistic point of view, there is no denying that the film has a certain aestheticism to it that makes it very pleasant visually. The costumes and sets are elegant; Beverly’s summer home by the lake has a strange enchanting quality to it. The flying horse is just beautiful and the scenes where he spreads his wings are a delight.

BrightestYoungThings, 2014. Winter’s Tale Review [online]. DC. Available at: [Accessed 8th April 2014]

Quote by Steve Neale from page 10 of Alec Worley’s Empires of the Imagination


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