Paul King and David Heyman prove to be a bankable duo after having fostered an excellent, lucrative partnership with the highly acclaimed Paddington series. They currently have a Willy Wonka movie in the works together, but it would seem that this stellar team-up is looking to take more risks in the effort to expand on their pool of collaborative efforts.
Deadline reports that King and Heyman are shifting gears from whimsical talking bears and chocolate factories to breathe cinematic life into a magical love story based on Glyn Maxwell‘s novel-length poem Time’s Fool: A Tale In Verse.
The narrative follows a cursed 17-year-old by the name of Edmund Lea who is condemned to a life of solitude for reasons he cannot recall. He is trapped traveling on a phantom train for all of eternity, only receiving a brief reprieve on Christmas Eve every seven years when he is allowed to visit his hometown for one evening.
On one hand, it is only in those precious few hours of freedom that Edmund can really focus on unearthing the cause of his doomed plight. On the other, he is also forced to watch as his family and friends move on without him each time he returns home, a horrific cyclical pattern that’s psychologically taxing and heartrending.
Jon Croker, who is known for penning The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death and contributing to the Paddington films as part of its writing team, will adapt Time’s Fool alongside King. That said, in spite of their proven combined storytelling prowess, this adaptation already feels like an exceptional challenge for King and Croker given its structural and thematic ambition.
Time’s Fool was originally written in strict terza rima. This verse form, which employs three-line stanzas and interlocked rhyme schemes, is integral to the poem’s contents. Its tercets are as fleeting as memory itself, mimicking Edmund’s time spent (or lost) on the ghost train as he attempts to love and repent his way to salvation. Nevertheless, the story isn’t actually all doom and gloom as it features a good deal of dark humor and social satire woven into its deeply profound depictions of nostalgia.
The sheer ambitiousness and fantastical nature of Time’s Fool have drawn comparisons to supernaturally-tinged literary classics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Richard Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman. In all these stories, there is something inherently lamentable and terrifying about the passage of time in search for redemption.
However, as noted by Deadline, King’s onscreen version of Time’s Fool intends to lean into its mystery and romance as opposed to scarier elements. And, in alignment with the director’s general oeuvre, the adaptation will root itself in a timeless human tale.
As King states:
“I’ve always been attracted to films which use magical ideas to explore real human emotions. And so when, one rainy afternoon, Jon poured me a cup of tea and told me the story of ‘Time’s Fool,’ I was immediately hooked. It’s a captivating tale of wonder and heartbreak which sets the pulse racing and the imagination on fire. David, Jon and I will do our best not to mess it up.”
What’s most exhilarating about Time’s Fool is its potential to move King into a different kind of directorial space; one that firmly pulls him out of the comedy and family genre into something more unpredictable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still disappointed that he may not direct Paddington 3. The way he builds relationships and creates nuanced characters — even out of villains — in that series piques my intrigue over how his take on a time-bending romance will specifically play out.
However, besides Willy Wonka and a new Pinocchio film for Disney, I’m keen to see King step out of his comfort zone as he chases quirky narratives. Time’s Fool sounds far more bombastic than all his fare so far, as well, even his The Mighty Boosh-esque English comedy Bunny and the Bull.
Moreover, King likely won’t ditch the whims of his peculiar visual storytelling style either; not when an evocative setting is also very much intrinsic to Time’s Fool. Indeed, the fact of him adapting a poem so stringently determined by its own rhyme scheme makes total sense when we observe the attention to detail found throughout his filmography.
From the unusual mundanity of Boosh to the off-kilter London featured in Paddington, King knows how to operate in a surrealist yet genuine landscape, ever so slightly teasing a sardonic edge without losing its heartfelt investment completely.
Time’s Fool has plenty to say about what constitutes homecoming and identity, and it does so through the dramatic centerpiece of a train. Regardless, casting would be of utmost importance to King’s film as well. Truly, if this was in production a decade ago, I’d nominate Eddie Redmayne to play Edmund in a heartbeat.
In the event that Redmayne is now too old for the part, the top suggestion would be Alex Lawther, who has coincidentally been compared to Paddington voice actor Ben Whishaw in the past. This connection isn’t for naught, though, when Lawther is one of the subtlest actors of his generation. He’s often much more serious on screen thanks to roles in The Imitation Game and The End of the F***king World. But at least the latter project means that he is already familiar with bizarre stories.
Dream casts aside, there are a few certainties about Time’s Fool. The project would serve as a great confirmation of King’s longevity in the film industry beyond family-friendly fare. Yet, the fact that we’re already confident that he can succeed shows just how special he is as a director, and no matter what, I can’t wait to see what he does next.