It's no definitive masterpiece but it's damn close.
At first rather annoying in its heavy emphasis on reenactments, this movie ultimately proves fascinating, simply because the complicated, highly dramatic tale it tells still almost defies belief.
By the time the dramatic fireworks start popping off, each one feels earned.
So... It's really difficult to find a director and a script writer with fewer imagination and lack of drama perception.
SCRIPT WRITER: I was actually shocked to discover that Christopher Hampton, the script writer, is Oscar winning. I admit I never saw Dangerous Liaisons but I did see Atonement and I liked it dearly. Yet this script lacks everything expected from a script writer of this amplitude. The way he lost momentum of what in the book are most carefully threaded subplots, some of the dialog not only simply obliterated, but, worse, amputated, characters unreasonable modified or even excluded altogether in a most uninspired way... all tat is absolutely disconcerting.
I never expected a movie to follow every letter of the book it's based upon, but there is a limit to which you are bound if you want your movie to hoover around the same level of quality the book does. Christopher Hampton though, thought different. I'm under the impression that he wrote this script in the most unprofessional way he could ever write a script, in the manner one would do if one forgot about the deadline and remembered it the day it should have been delivered. Script wise, the movie is a complete shame on Christopher Hampton's panoply.
DIRECTOR: If I was Diane Setterfield I would be very unsatisfied by how this movie turned out. But I think more than being disappointed by the script writer, I would be so by the director. James Kent directed more than one movie based on a book. One of them - I loved the book but I HATED the movie - is 11.22.63. Not gonna comment it here though. The distracted way in which The Thirteenth Tale was directed is disconcerting. Unbelievable how actors like Vanessa Redgrave's or Olivia Colman's acting was reduced to utter amatorism by this director. The same sensation I experienced watching 11.22.63 which I already mentioned. James Franco looked like an impotent amator, not like the great actor he actually is. The only actress that resisted this mutilation of talent and turned out completely untainted was Sophie Turner. Thumbs up for her - and not the first time, either.
The location of the filming is superb - I've been in the area (not seen the actual park, only Helmsley) and just like probably most of the countryside England, it is breathtaking - yet this doesn't transpire from the movie. The scenes concentrate on debilitated characters instead of the majesty of the land. A house that is the actual centre in the book for most of the plot is barely filmed here and there and that's only an example.
So, considering the two main things that can make a movie an Oscar winning one or a simple celluloid pulp - just, as, unfortunately, The Thirteenth Tale is - scripting and directing, were impossibly idiotic this time. Hence my recommendation: don't watch the movie if you read the book, unless you are a script writer or a director and you want to learn what not to do when doing your job. Or, better yet, just read the book and forget the movie. You'll have more to win like that.
Based on a best-selling Gothic novel, THE THIRTEENTH TALE contains all the virtues characteristic of contemporary BBC drama; lavish locations with plenty of exterior shots, ornately decorated interior shots, 'mood' lighting designed to create a spooky atmosphere, and a cast of well- known actors given full opportunity to show off their creative talents. In this particular piece, aging novelist Viola Winter (Vanessa Redgrave) enlists the services of little-known writer Margaret Lea (Olivia Colman) to recount her autobiography, including her Viola's mysterious childhood when her family home (Anglefield House) burned to the ground. However Viola is herself a writer of fiction, so we never quite know whether what she recounts is 'the truth' or not (if the truth exists, of course). Christopher Hampton's screenplay allows for plenty of exchanges between the protagonists, as well as creating a 'hall-of- mirrors' like effect in which nothing is what it seems to be. However the narrative of THE THIRTEENTH TALE does tend to sag; like many BBC dramas, the director James Kent seems too much concerned to create atmosphere through music and location shooting (both interior and exterior), both of which tend to impede the progress of the plot. The denouement, when it comes, is both predictable and un-scary. One is left with the feeling that the story could have been far more effectively recounted in a sixty-minute slot.
This moody and mysterious drama based upon a novel by Diane Setterfield (who looks very like Olivia Colman), brilliantly adapted by Christopher Hampton, was shown on December 30, 2013, and was a real success. The direction, acting, cinematography, art direction, and every aspect of the production were splendid. As always happens when Vanessa Redgrave is involved in something, we are all mesmerised by her every look, especially those when she stares into the void and remembers things. In this film, she spends her entire time lying down because she is dying of pancreatic cancer. Despite that, she dominates the action and it is impossible not to fall under her spell. And when did anybody not fall under her spell? The intensity, the dreaminess, the abstract gazes into the beyond (as if she could see something which we cannot see, which is of course always really the case) are all there. And the person who has to counterbalance all this is Olivia Colman, also superb as usual, this time as an introverted and somewhat sulky woman with her own unresolved issues. Redgrave plays a famous popular novelist, and author of a best-selling book called THIRTEEN TALES, which notoriously only contained 12 tales. So everybody has always wanted to know what was the 13th tale which she suppressed and never told. As death approaches, she feels compelled to tell that tale at last, which is the true story of her early life. Redgrave lives in a huge ornate country house full of rare books and beautiful objects. She summons Olivia Colman, a younger and little-known writer, to stay with her and for a very handsome fee to become her biographer. Colman is doubtful and on the verge of being hostile and resentful. She always dresses like someone going camping in the woods and clearly carries the burden of some deep wound. Will she too reveal her own 13th tale? Thus the two women progress with their mutual revelations, all of which are desperately disturbing and infinitely sad. Not for a moment are we bored, as the story unfolds in such a dramatic manner, with many flashbacks. The director James Kent has done a magnificent job of making all of this work. Colman asks Redgrave, suspiciously, why she chose her to write her biography, and Redgrave mysteriously says it is not because of Colman's biography of the Brontes, which she 'would not dream of reading', but because of an article she once wrote about twins. This unsettles Colman, who drops the subject. Colman tells Redgrave that she, Redgrave, has always lied about herself and has told numerous versions of her life, all of which appear to be untrue. Having written under the name of Vilda Winter, a pseudonym, no one has ever known her real name, so Colman demands to be told it. Redgrave says her real name is Adeline March and that she grew up in a large country house 'about five miles from here" on the Yorkshire moors, called Angelfield. She said it burnt down when she was 17. It is what happened between her birth and the age of 17 that is then shockingly revealed, layer upon layer upon layer. It is all so very gripping and strange that we are on the edges of our seats as we watch the tale unfold in all its Gothic complexity. It involves incest, madness, impersonation, and murder. Even in 'telling the truth', Redgrave is not really doing so, because a further layer of the real truth emerges towards the end of the film. But the first version of the truth is that Redgrave was a twin, with an identical twin sister named Emmeline, who died long ago. In the flashbacks, we see the red-haired twins as children, both apparently played by the same child actress, Madeleine Power, who is extremely talented and acts very passionately. They loll around the huge house entirely unsupervised and uneducated, their parents being the brother and sister who live incestuously in the house but rarely come out of their bedroom except to look increasingly demented and exhausted from constant sex (well played by Emily Beecham and Michael Jibson). A mysterious murder takes place in the house, which is blamed on the mother, who is then taken away permanently to an insane asylum. The true murderer is revealed later. Then we move forward in time and the twins are 17. These both appear to be played by the actress Sophie Turner, though the IMDb cast list says she only plays Adeline. I confess myself at a loss to figure out the casting here. Whether Power plays one, two, or three girls (yes, we eventually learn that there are three rather than two), I cannot say, but whatever is the answer, she is extremely good at it and has the correct eerie but beautiful look, especially when she, like Redgrave, gazes into space. Then we discover that Emmeline is really still alive but is also dying, and Colman sees her digging frantically in the earth with her bare hands saying: 'Dead go underground.' Her face is heavily scarred from the fire at the old house. Meanwhile Colman explores the ruined house nearby, half destroyed by the old fire (an amazing true location, wonder where it was), and meets a strange man who sleeps in the ruin sometimes. Later she discovers who he is and why he is there. Things get 'mysteriouser and mysteriouser' as the saying goes. As the real truth comes out about the twins, Colman becomes emotional and bursts into tears and tells her own story, how she feels guilty for having indirectly caused the accidental death of her own twin. Redgrave drolly tells her: 'Feeling guilty doesn't do anybody any good,' but holds her as she sobs. I don't wish to ruin things by telling more of the bizarre tale, but it is surprising, hair-raising and highly melodramatic. This is a really gripping and excellent film.
...not generally a fan of 'ghostly' stories but was curious to see the fine cast of The 13th Tale. It was gripping from the beginning, superb acting, stunningly pretty and horrid little girls, sensational sets and music which really helped keep the concentration - a marvellous production and of course original story. Having been drawn in, I was soon to be flabbergasted when I realised some of it was shot at Duncombe Park where I was at prep. school in the 60's - a first shot of the entrance gates, the drive and steps to the front door I knew at once! - a much loved place by most of us who were lucky enough then to have assembly and put on the Nativity Play in the main Saloon,walk through the doors onto the terrace, build dens around the Yew Walk and around the Temples, play on the same swing and around Father Time, admire the mahogany staircase only for the staff to use, peer down into the Main Hall with its chequerboard floor waiting for parents to arrive, have story time each evening with the Head whilst sitting round her on the floor of her Study, the Library... I was transfixed and quite horrified to see the house as burnt out shell!! How did you do that? overall a magnificent and moving production, just a perfect setting for the story... thank you to Heyman Productions and the BBC