The Swan (2023) Movie Script

From the short story by
Ernie had been given a rifle
for his birthday.
He took the gun and a box of bullets
and went to see what he could kill.
Outside Raymond's house,
he stuck two fingers in his mouth
and gave a long shrill whistle.
Raymond was Ernie's best friend.
He lived four doors away.
He held up the rifle over his head.
"Gripes!" said Raymond.
"We can have some fun with that!"
The two boys set off.
This was a Saturday morning in May.
The chestnut trees were in full flower,
and the hawthorn was white
along the hedgerows.
As Ernie and Raymond
progressed up the narrow hedgy lane,
they shot every little bird they saw.
Bullfinches, hedge sparrows,
whitethroats, yellowhammers.
When they reached the railway line,
there were 14 small birds
dangling on a line of string.
"Look!" whispered Ernie,
pointing with a long arm. "Over there!"
There was a small boy looking up
into the branches of an old tree
through binoculars.
"Watson! That little twerp."
Peter Watson had a small, frail body.
Face freckled
and he wore spectacles with thick lenses.
He was a brilliant pupil,
already in senior class at school
though he was only 13.
He loved music and played the piano well.
He was no good at games.
He was quiet and polite.
The two bigger boys
crept up slowly on the small boy.
He did not see them
because he had the binoculars to his eyes
and was deeply captivated
by what he was looking at.
"Stick 'em up!"
Ernie shouted, pointing the gun.
Peter Watson jumped.
He stared through his spectacles
at the two intruders.
"Go on!" Ernie shouted. "Stick 'em up!"
Peter Watson stood still,
holding the binoculars
in front of him with both hands.
He looked at Raymond and Ernie.
He wasn't afraid, but knew better
than to play the fool with these two.
He'd suffered
from their attentions over the years.
Hands up.
It was the only sensible thing to do.
Raymond stepped forward
and snatched the binoculars away.
"Who you spyin' on?" He snapped.
Peter Watson considered the possibilities.
He could turn and run,
but they'd catch him in seconds.
He could shout for help,
but no one would hear him.
All he could do,
therefore, was to keep calm
and try to talk his way
out of the situation.
"I was watching
a green woodpecker," Peter said.
"A what?"
"A male, green woodpecker." Picus viridis.
"He was tapping the trunk
of that dead tree, searching for grubs."
"Where is he?"
Ernie said, raising his gun.
"I'll 'ave 'im!"
"No, you won't," Peter said,
looking at the string of birds
slung over Raymond's shoulder.
"He flew off the moment you shouted.
Woodpeckers are extremely timid."
Raymond whispered in Ernie's ear.
Ernie slapped his thigh. "Great idea!"
He placed his gun on the ground
and advanced upon the small boy.
He threw him to the ground.
Raymond took out some string
and cut off a length of it.
They tied Peter's wrists together tight.
"Now the legs," Raymond said.
Peter struggled
and received a punch in the stomach.
That winded him, and he lay still.
The bigger boys
tied his ankles with more string,
trussed him like a chicken.
Ernie picked up his gun,
and they began to carry the boy
towards the railway lines.
Peter Watson kept absolutely quiet.
Whatever they were up to,
talking wouldn't help matters.
They dragged him down the embankment
and laid him lengthwise
between the tracks. These tracks here.
These tracks right here.
This happened to me 27 years ago.
My name is Peter Watson.
"More string," Ernie said.
When they finished, Peter was helpless,
tied fast between the rails.
The only parts he could move
were his head and feet.
Ernie and Raymond stepped back
to survey their handiwork.
"We done a nice job," Ernie said.
"This is murder,"
said the boy lying between the rails.
"Not for certain," said Ernie.
"Depends how much clearance
the trains have."
"You keep down flat,
you might just get away with it." [laughs]
The bigger boys climbed up the embankment
and sat behind some bushes.
Ernie produced a pack of cigarettes.
They smoked.
Peter knew
they weren't going to release him.
These were dangerous, crazy boys.
Dangerous, crazy, stupid boys.
"I must try to keep calm and think,"
Peter told himself.
He lay there, still, weighing his chances.
The highest part of his head was his nose.
He estimated his nose was sticking up
about four inches above the rails.
Was that too much?
Hard to say with modern diesels.
His head rested
upon loose gravel between two sleepers.
He must try to burrow down a little.
He began to wriggle his head
pushing the gravel away
and gradually making for himself
a small indentation.
He reckoned
he'd lowered his head two inches.
That would do. But what about the feet?
He tucked them pigeon-toed
so they lay almost flat,
then waited for the train to come.
He wondered whether there might be
a vacuum created underneath the train
as it rushed over him,
sucking him upward. There might.
He must concentrate everything
upon pressing his entire body
against the ground.
"Don't go limp. Keep stiff and tense
and press down into the ground."
Peter watched the white sky
above his head,
where a single cumulus cloud
was drifting slowly.
An aeroplane came across the cloud.
A small high-winged monoplane
with a red fuselage.
An old Piper Cub, he thought it was.
He watched it until it disappeared.
Then, quite suddenly,
he heard a curious vibrating sound
coming from the rails either side of him.
It was very soft, scarcely audible,
a tiny, thrumming whisper
that seemed to be
coming along the rails from far away.
[rails rattling softly]
Peter raised his head
and looked down the railway line
that stretched for a mile in the distance,
and saw the train.
First, only a black dot,
but as he kept his head raised,
the dot grew bigger and bigger
and began to take shape
and was no longer a dot,
but instead, the big, square,
blunt front-end of a diesel engine.
Peter dropped his head
and pushed it down hard into the hole
- he'd dug in the gravel.
- [train bell dinging]
He pigeon-toed his feet flat.
He shut his eyes tight
and pressed his body into the ground.
The train came on with an explosive blast.
Like a gun went off in his head.
With the explosion
came a tearing, screaming wind
like a hurricane blowing down his nostrils
and into his lungs.
The noise was shattering.
The wind choked him.
He felt as if he were being eaten alive
and swallowed up in the belly
of a screaming, murderous monster.
[Peter] And then it was over.
The train was gone.
Peter Watson opened his eyes
and saw the white sky
and the big, white cloud
still drifting overhead.
It was all over, and he had done it.
- Cut him loose.
- Ernie said.
Raymond cut the strings
binding Peter to the rails.
"Undo his feet, but keep his hands tied."
Raymond cut the strings around his ankles.
"Oh, you're still a prisoner, matey,"
Ernie said.
The two bigger boys marched Peter Watson
across the next field towards the lake.
The prisoner's wrists
were still tied together.
Ernie held the gun in his spare hand
and Raymond carried the binoculars
he had taken from Peter.
The lake was long and narrow
with tall willow trees
growing along its bank.
In the middle, the water was clear,
but closer to the shore
was a forest of bulrushes.
"Now, then," Ernie said.
"What I suggest is this."
"You take his arms, I'll take his legs,
and we'll swing him as far out as we can
over them nice muddy reeds."
"Look!" Raymond interrupted.
"There! Let's have him!"
Peter Watson turned and saw it at once.
A nest consisting
of a huge pile of reeds and rushes
that rose up two feet above the waterline.
And, on top, a magnificent white swan
sitting serenely as the Lady of the Lake.
Her head was turned towards the boys,
alert and watchful.
"Holy cats!" cried Raymond.
"What a beauty!"
Ernie let go of the prisoner's arm
and lifted the gun to his shoulder.
"This is This is a bird sanctuary,"
said Peter, stammering.
"A what?" asked Ernie.
Peter felt a wild rage
beginning to build up inside him.
He tried to keep his voice calm.
"Swans are the most
protected birds in England,
and nobody shoots a bird on its nest.
She may have cygnets under her."
"Please don't do it. You can't do it.
Please, don't do it! Stop!"
[wings fluttering]
The bullet hit the swan
in her elegant head
and her long white neck
sank slowly to the side of the nest.
"Cut his hands free, Raymond.
He's our gun-dog."
Raymond cut the strings
binding the small boy's wrists.
"Go get him!"
"I refuse," I said.
Ernie hit Peter
across the face, hard, with his open hand.
A trickle of blood
began running out of one nostril.
"Try refusin' one more time,
and I'm goin' to make you a promise:
I'll knock out every one
of your shiny white front teeth,
top and bottom. You understand that?"
Peter said nothing.
"Answer me!" Ernie barked.
"You understand?"
"Yes," Peter Watson said quietly.
"I understand that."
Tears were running down Peter's face
as he went down the bank
and entered the water.
He waded out to the dead swan
and picked it up tenderly with both hands.
Underneath were two tiny cygnets,
their bodies covered with gray down.
They were huddling
in the center of the nest.
"Any eggs?" Ernie shouted from the bank.
"No," Peter answered. "Nothing."
He carried the dead swan
back to the edge of the lake.
He placed it gently on the ground,
and he stood up and faced the two others.
His eyes, still wet with tears,
were blazing with fury.
"It's you who ought to be dead," he said.
Ernie seemed just a tiny bit taken aback,
but he quickly recovered.
A dangerous little spark
danced in his small black eyes.
"Give me your knife, Raymond."
There is a joint in the bone
where the wing meets the bird.
Ernie slid the knife into the joint
and cut through the tendon.
The knife was sharp and cut well,
and soon the wing came away
all in one piece.
Ernie turned the swan over
and severed the other wing.
"String," he said,
holding out his hand to Raymond.
Ernie cut eight pieces,
each about a yard long.
He tied the bits of string
along the top edge of the great wing.
"Stick out your arms."
Peter Watson stood in the sunshine
beside the lake
on this beautiful May morning,
the enormous, limp,
slightly bloodied wings
dangling grotesquely at his sides.
Ernie clapped his hands
and danced a little jig on the grass.
[lively instrumental music playing]
"Have you finished?" Peter Watson asked.
"Swans don't talk," Ernie said.
They marched along the bank of the lake
until they came to a tall willow tree.
The branches hung down from a great height
until they almost touched
the surface of the lake.
"What you're gonna do, Mr. Swan,
is climb to the top,
and when you get there,
you'll spread out your wings
and take off!"
"Fantastic!" cried Raymond.
The thought of being high up
and out of reach of these hooligans
appealed to Peter greatly.
When he was up there, he'd stay up there.
He doubted
they would bother to come up after him.
If they did,
he could climb away on a thin limb
that wouldn't take the weight
of two people.
The tree was fairly easy to climb,
with low branches to give him a start up.
"Higher!" shouted Ernie. "Keep going!"
Peter eventually arrived at a point
where he could go no higher.
His feet were standing
on a branch as thick as a man's wrist,
and this branch
reached far out over the lake,
then curved gracefully downward.
He stood there resting after the climb.
He was very high up, at least 50 feet.
He couldn't see the two boys.
They were no longer
standing at the base of the tree.
"Now listen carefully!"
They had walked away from the tree
to a point where they had a clear view
of the small boy at the top.
Looking down at them now,
Peter Watson realized
how sparse and slender
the leaves of a willow tree were.
They gave him almost no cover at all.
"Start walking out along that branch!"
"Keep goin' till you're out over
the nice muddy water! Then take off"
Peter Watson didn't move.
He kept his eyes on the distant figures
in the field below.
They were standing quite still,
looking up at him.
"I'm gonna count to ten,
if you ain't spread them wings
and flown away, I'm gonna shoot you down."
"That'll make two swans
I've knocked off today."
"Here we go."
"One, two, three, four, five, six!"
Peter Watson remained absolutely still.
Nothing would make him move from now on.
"Seven, eight, nine, ten!"
Peter could see the gun
coming up to the shoulder.
Pointing straight at him.
He heard the crack of the rifle
and the zip of the bullet
as it whistled past his head.
[mimics gunshot, whooshing]
It was frightening, but he didn't move.
He could see Ernie loading the gun.
"Last chance!" yelled Ernie.
"Next one's gonna get you!"
Peter waited.
He watched the boy among the buttercups
in the meadow far below
with the other boy beside him.
The gun came up
once again to the shoulder.
This time he heard the crack
as the bullet hit him in the thigh.
There was no pain,
but the force of it was devastating.
Like someone had whacked him
with a sledgehammer,
and it knocked both feet
off the branch he was standing on.
He scrabbled with his hands to hang on.
The small branch he was holding onto
bent over and split.
[wood cracks]
Some people, when they have taken too much
and been driven
beyond the point of endurance,
simply crumble and collapse and give up.
Others, however, though they are not many,
who will for some reason
always be unconquerable.
You meet them in time of war
and also in time of peace.
They have an indomitable spirit
and nothing, neither pain
nor torture nor threat of death,
will cause them to give up.
Little Peter Watson was one of these.
And as he fought and scrabbled
to prevent himself
from falling out of the top of that tree,
it came to him suddenly
that he was going to win.
He looked up and saw a light
shining over the waters of the lake
that was of such brilliance and beauty
he was unable to look away from it.
The light was beckoning him,
drawing him on,
and he dived towards the light
and spread his wings.
Three different people
reported seeing a great white swan
circling over the village that morning:
a schoolteacher,
a man replacing tiles
on the roof of the chemist's shop,
and a boy playing in a nearby field.
Mrs. Watson,
washing dishes in her kitchen sink,
happened to glance up
through the window at the exact moment
something huge and white
came crashing down
onto the lawn in her back garden.
She rushed outside.
She dropped to her knees
beside the small crumpled figure
of her only son.
"My darling!" she cried. "My darling boy!
"What's happened to you?"