One of the world’s most popular screenwriting books, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has brought clarity and a sense of direction to thousands of screenwriters, many of whom were looking for the logical extension of Syd Field’s work.
If you’re not familiar with it, the book delivered a structural screenwriting roadmap for mainstream movies: not quite a full-blown join-the-dots guidebook, but in some ways, close.
With fully 15 story beats to hit over 90-120 pages Save the Cat gave writers both a well-lit pathway through those dark narrative woods and a way to quickly filter out the stories worth developing to full screenplay stage.
But how well do the theories hold up?
In Blake’s 2nd book, Save the Cat Goes to The Movies, he attempted to firm up and solidify his thesis, by analyzing various classic films.
And whilst this analysis proved for the most part effective, the doubters (largely, let’s face it, from the independent-slash-art-house sector of the industry) remain…
So whilst Snyder’s greatest gift to screenwriters probably remains the pithy maxim “give me the same, just different”, here at Industrial Scripts we thought we’d really stress-test the theories, against a range of films of varying quality.
“The pithy ‘give me the same just different’ remains Snyder’s greatest gift to screenwriters…”
If you’d like to view all the articles in our Save the Cat Analysis Series please do so at the link, and simply read on for the next instalment in the series!
Save the Cat Analysis Series #6: SLIDING DOORS (1998)
FILM: SLIDING DOORS (1998)
STORY TYPE: “Out of the Bottle” / “Rites of Passage”
NOTES: This is one of those rare movies that is arguably better remembered for its premise than its content, and it’s an undeniably effective one. Structurally speaking, Sliding Doors endorses some of Snyder’s views and not others: the Catalyst beat is literally the definition of Snyder’s interpretation; unusually the Bad Guys Close In and Dark Night of the Soul sequences are well represented; and the Set-Up scenes are routinely Snyderian. However there’s absolutely no sign of a Theme Stated moment, and the Break into Act Three/Finale combo is typically muddled. Another mixed bag Snyder-wise then, but a great premise that’s skilfully executed for the most part, well-paced and with excellent tension and dramatic intrigue.
Save the Cat Analysis: SLIDING DOORS (1998)
- Opening Image (p. 1)
– Opening image: Establishing shot of London Bridge. Not a particularly Snyderian Opening Image, although it does give us the location of the movie. No real sense of the tone of the movie is delivered, however, and the opening and final images aren’t opposites of one another.
- Theme Stated (p. 5)
– 10 minutes in and there still hasn’t been any Theme Stated moments of note. Ironically, this is a film that very effectively takes a theme (namely fate) and weaves into a film context, and indeed it’s even arguable that the premise or use of fate was a crucial factor in luring people into the cinema back in 1998. Perhaps James’ later line of “everything will turn out alright in the end” is as close as the film gets to nailing its theme, or even Helen’s speech about “if only I’d caught that tube”. Overall, though, this is perhaps the only film we’ve encountered thus far that doesn’t have even a glimpse of a Snyderian Theme Stated moment.
- Set-Up (p. 1 – 10)
– This is a Snyderian opening 10 minutes, in which we’ve met our protagonist (Helen), been made aware of the stakes (or main source of conflict in the movie – ie. that Gerry is having an affair) and also been introduced to the other main characters in the story (Gerry and James). In addition to this, there’s been some suitably “big” moments already – Helen’s been fired, she’s missed her train/made her train, Gerry’s revealed his true colours to us if not Helen…it’s a packed, information-filled opening that Snyder would undoubtedly approve of. Certain running gags and call-backs are also established here, such as the Monty Python references.
- Catalyst (p. 12)
– Almost precisely 12 minutes in and Helen comes home to find Gerry having sex with Lydia. A classic Catalyst moment in so many ways, the fact that this arrives precisely when Snyder argues it should puts this beat high in the running for the most Snyderian Catalyst moment we’ve come across.
- Debate (p. 12 – 25)
– The question posed by the Catalyst moment here is: “how will Helen respond to learning about Gerry’s infidelity?” Of course, another question hangs in the air of the other story: “will Helen return from the hospital before Lydia has left Gerry’s flat?” There’s certainly some vague sense of a Snyderian Debate sequence here, particularly in Helen’s indecision about what to do after she catches Gerry with Lydia. But with the cutting between the two stories, it’s not the most convincing Debate sequence we’ve seen.
- Break into Act Two (p. 25)
– 20 minutes in and James walks into the same bar that Helen is drowning her sorrows in. Whether this is a “big” enough moment to satisfy Snyder is pretty dubious, but at least it signals the start of the romantic core of the film, as Helen really warms to James despite her heartache.
- B Story (p. 30)
– As suggested above the true romantic element of SLIDING DOORS kicks in here, as James and Helen meet in the bar and he manages to cheer her up. Snyder argues that the B Story carries the “theme” of the movie, but this isn’t really true here – the whole film focuses on fate and its impact on our lives. However he also argues that the B Story should provide new characters to give the story a little “booster”, and here we meet Clive and Anna for the first time. Overall then, this is a rather mixed B Story moment, and this beat remains one of Snyder’s least convincing ones.
- Fun and Games (p. 30 – 55)
– An interesting Fun and Games sequence here, as in one plot-strand a montage shows us Helen enjoying a makeover, laughing with Anna, and in the other we see a montage of a series of bad things happening to Helen (delivering sandwiches, waiting tables, being hassled by customers etc.) It’s the same story, of course, just flipped on its head. The positive aspects or “fun” of the first story continues as James turns up round at Helen’s unannounced and takes her out for a milkshake, as their fledgling courtship continues. In the other story, however, it’s a different story, as Gerry overreacts when Helen mentions the second brandy glass. This story continues in negative fashion as Helen follows Gerry to the library, and is insulted by Lydia for the quality of her sandwiches. In the other story, of course, Helen is on an upward curve – she goes out with James, has fun, starts her own PR business and it’s arguably this sequence that convinces us that this is a credible Fun and Games sequence. And, on reflection, even the downbeat secondary tale delivers what the movie promised to its proposed audience – a young woman struggling with life and love in the big city.
- Midpoint (p. 55)
– 50 minutes in and James and Helen kiss for the first time, and then have sex soon afterwards. This is a big moment in many ways, symbolising Helen’s recovery from the shock of splitting up with Gerry, but it’s interesting to note that the writer holds back from delivering a similarly big negative moment in the second story, as Gerry attempts to confess his infidelity but is foiled by the fact that Helen falls asleep.
- Bad Guys Close In (p. 55 -75)
– Good sense of the Bad Guys Closing In here early on, as the “bad guy” himself, Gerry, reappears on the scene in the first story, ruining the launch of Clive’s restaurant and causing a rift between Helen and James (James sees Gerry kissing Helen) that isn’t healed for a while. More bad happenings occur soon afterwards, as Helen faints at work, and then calls Gerry to try and talk about her problem, but he’s got the phone off the hook and Lydia in his mouth. They talk on the phone the next morning, but Lydia is hell-bent on ruining the phonecall, and things even turn bad for Gerry as Lydia storms off, saying that it’s over between them. Overall, this is a very Snyderian Bad Guys Close In sequence, with a genuine sense of “the forces aligned against the hero, internal and external, tightening their grip”.
- All is Lost (p. 75)
– 65 minutes in and not only does Helen realise once and for all that Gerry is a chronic liar and cheat (by using 1471 to learn that Gerry was calling Lydia, not Russell), but she’s also realised the true extent of her feelings for James, but it may now be too late. “I think I’ve blown it”, she says to Anna, “I’ve blown it haven’t I?” Whilst there’s certainly a sense of loss here, there’s also a positive sense of closure, although the whiff of death so apparent in the later beats (when Helen is run over/falls down the stairs, and loses her baby) is absent here. Not the most Snyderian All is Lost beat we’ve come across.
- Dark Night of The Soul (p. 75 – 85)
– More bad news for Helen follows when she learns that James has a wife, and we then see a very primal scene in the rain where James begs a bedraggled Helen to listen to him. Things go from bad to worse in both stories, however, as Helen suffers the double-whammy of finding out about Gerry’s infidelity and falling down the stairs, while Helen in the other story is hit by a van. Of course Helen then loses the baby in both stories, and overall this feels like a very Snyderian Dark Night of the Soul sequence.
- Break into Act Three (p. 85)
– There isn’t really a clear Break into Act Three beat here – Snyder’s definition of it relies on a proactive decision on the part of the hero, but the problem here is that Helen is unconscious in a hospital bed, and not really fit to make any decisions. Snyder might try and argue that the moment where Helen wakes up to find Gerry by her bedside, and promptly dismisses him is a an act three break, but a) she’s already got rid of him earlier on and b) in this 90 minute film we’re too late in the day at this point for this beat to qualify. As ever, the Break into Act Three beat, as beloved as it is by structuralists like Snyder, isn’t really backed up by the movies…they’re more focussed on the act one and act two breaks.
- Finale (p. 85 – 110)
– No real sense of a Finale here – Helen gets out of hospital and runs into James in the lift, and they look at each other, and the movie ends. It’s an interesting and effective ending, quite open-ended and less definitive than many rom-coms, and it also cleverly encapsulates the movie’s message regarding fate and life often being out of our control. However, there’s scant sight of Snyder’s “lessons learned are applied” mantra, and overall this is another beat that fails to convince on a Snyderian level.
- Final Image (p. 110)
– Final image: James and Helen look at one another, and the film goes to a freeze-frame. As suggested, there’s no sign of Snyder’s “opposites are attractive” rule in the opening and ending of this movie, but it’s an effective finale nonetheless.
Scene-by-Scene Breakdown: SLIDING DOORS (1998)
- Opening image: Establishing shot of London Bridge.
- Aerial shot of London.
- Shot of a woman’s hands knocking over a cup of tea in a rush. Pan up and we meet HELEN QUILLEY (Gwyneth Paltrow) kissing her sleeping boyfriend GERRY (John Lynch) goodbye. As soon as Helen’s gone, however, Gerry magically awakens, and takes the phone off the hook.
- Cut to Helen rushing along the tube platform and then…
- Emerging from the tube. She puts her mobile to her ear and we cut to…
- An Old Man in a coffee shop.
- Intercut between Gerry getting in the shower; Helen collecting her morning pastries from the kindly old man, then picking up some alcohol before rushing…
- Into work. She enters the boardroom and apologises for being late, but she was up all night preparing for the fashion show. The men, nonplussed, produce an empty cardboard box with Smirnoff on the side, and Helen says: “what? I took four bottles of vodka on Friday because it was my birthday…I bought some more to replace it”. “Not a lot of use to me when I’ve got nothing to offer the executives when they dropped by late on Friday”, says PAUL (Kevin McNally). Helen says that he could have told them they’d run out, and goes on to say that they’re in PR, bullshit is what they do. “But you didn’t do that, did you Paul?” says Helen, “so I’m out, am I?” Paul’s face gives her the answer. “Well this is perfect”, she says, “you’ve wanted me out for ages, now you’ve done it, very well done”. “I was getting a bit choked up with all the testosterone flying around the place anyway, best I get out before I start growing a penis”. “Told you, lesbian”, says another colleague.
- Cut to LYDIA (Jeanne Tripplehorn) seductively undressing for Gerry, who’s just wearing a towel.
- Back to Helen entering a lift with a load of male employees including JAMES HAMERTON (John Hannah). She drops her earring and he picks it up.
- James exits the building ahead of Helen and…
- We cut to the tube, where he passes through the barriers slightly ahead of her again.
- Intercut scenes between the tube arriving and Helen hurrying to get on it. At one point, a little girl gets in her way and a “magical” sound interrupts the soundtrack. Sequence ends with Helen failing to reach the tube in time before the doors close.
- However the sequence is reversed so that, the second time, Helen’s path isn’t impeded by the little girl, and this time she makes it onto the tube by the skin of her teeth.
- Intercut shots of Helen waiting on the platform dejected, having missed the tube, and by contrast sitting down inside the tube with James. In the end we come to rest on the Helen that didn’t make the tube, who then hears an announcement revealing that the District line is down and that she should seek alternative transport.
- Intercut scenes between Helen trying to hail a cab, and Helen on the tube sitting next to James. Helen is attacked by a pickpocket in the former tale, and hits her head against a tree. A KIND CABBIE (Terry English) helps Helen up.
- Meanwhile on the tube a man next to James is singing really badly. James tries to generate some banter between he and Helen, but she isn’t in the mood.
- The cabbie drops Helen off at hospital.
- James continues to try and amuse Helen but she politely tells him that she just wants to read her book. He apologises, saying that he’s in a good mood that day. He then wonders aloud if they’ve met before, and answers his own question by recalling the incident in the lift earlier, where he picked up her earring. Helen remembers it too, and then reveals that she’s just been fired. She then reiterates that she just wants to be left alone.
- Cut to Helen in the hospital having her cut tended to.
- Back to the tube, and James apologises again for badgering Helen. He then gets off the tube and is followed by Helen, who herself apologises for being antisocial.
- Cut to Gerry and Lydia kissing. “I never figured how we didn’t make it Gerry”, says Lydia, and he replies: “you went back to America, remember?” “I came back though”, she says, before continuing: “I turn my back for three lousy years and you abandon me for another woman”.
- Cut to Helen and James walking along together. Helen tells him that she lives with a man, and James replies: “and what would he say if he knew that you were walking up from the tube in broad daylight with a complete stranger?”
- Back to Gerry and Lydia, who’re now drinking together.
- Meanwhile Helen and James bid one another farewell, and James quotes some Monty Python at her as he strolls off.
- Back to Helen in the hospital. She calls Gerry but just gets the engaged tone.
- Helen returns home from the hospital, and moves through the house as music plays to find Gerry having sex with Lydia. He orgasms as he sees Helen, and tries to get Lydia off him (she doesn’t realise that Helen is there because she has her back to her). “I didn’t think you liked Elton John”, says Helen and Gerry replies: “I do sometimes”. “Who is she?” asks Helen, and Lydia replies: “she’s Lydia”. Lydia leaves, and Helen says: “I have had a dreadful day…I got sacked…and so did you it would seem…cup of tea?” “That would be nice”, Gerry replies, and then Helen rushes towards him and starts hitting him.
- Cut to Helen in a cab on the way back from the hospital, with a plaster on her face.
- Back to the previous scene. Helen is now laying down the law to Gerry, who is wrapped simply in a blanket. “I am working all hours to support you while you are supposedly writing your first novel”, she rants, before asking how long the affair’s been going on for. “I’m only asking because I need to know exactly how big a mug I am”, she says. Gerry starts to speak but Helen just storms out.
- Back to Helen in the cab, and we hear “magical” music.
- Cut to Lydia exiting Helen’s flat, before driving off – her car passes the cab coming in.
- Cut to Gerry in the shower. “Hello”, calls out Helen as she enters. Gerry looks shocked: “Helen is that you?” “No, it’s your bit of stuff”, Helen replies, sarcastically. Helen looks around the bedroom and then asks Gerry: “have you just got up your lazy git?” Gerry rambles something about sleeping badly, and then comes out of the shower and sees Helen’s face. He asks her what happened and she replies: “well there are two stories, which one do you want first?” Helen is about to begin her story when Gerry sees one of Lydia’s earrings perched on the pillow. He pushes past her to hide it, and then when she asks what he’s doing he turns off the stereo saying: “I can’t stand Elton John, you know that”. She starts telling him what happened and becomes tearful, but he interrupts her again to conceal the glass of brandy Lydia had been drinking from. Gerry knocks back a glass of brandy regardless.
- Back to other (cuckolded) Helen on London Bridge. She tearfully hurls her engagement ring into the water.
- Back to the previous scene. “I couldn’t help thinking if I’d just caught that bloody train”, Helen tells Gerry, “it would never have happened – I’d have been home ages ago”. Gerry replies: “you don’t want to be wondering ‘what if this’ and ‘what if that’…it’s done now”. He kisses her and then cheers her up by describing how he’s going to take her out and get her very drunk, and she can sing all her favourite Barbara Streisand songs at the top of her voice. He makes her laugh, and she hugs him, saying: “I love you Gerry”.
- Cut to Gerry in the other story, desperately looking for Helen. “She’s not here, Gerry”, ANNA (Zara Turner) tells him. “What is it you’ve done, anyway?” Anna asks him, and he dodges the question before asking her to let him know if Helen turns up. Anna says that if Helen turns up, she’ll do what Helen wants her to do, and shuts the door in his face. Shots of Helen at a bar, alone, drinking beer and smoking and looking upset.
- “Well she’s got a point”, RUSSELL (Douglas McFerran) tells Gerry in a pub, “you can’t stand Elton John”. Gerry goes on to ask Russel what he should do, and Russel replies: “Gerry, you’ve been telling me for weeks you couldn’t hack it juggling the two, and that you didn’t know why you’d got back with Lydian again…and you weren’t cut out for infidelity…and you couldn’t end it with Lydia, because you weren’t sure how she’d take it…and I told you that something, something ungoverned by you, would happen to bring this situation to a head”. “I know”, Gerry replies, and Russel says: “well, something has!” He cracks up laughing. “It’s not funny Russell”, says Gerry, and Russell replies that it is funny, and then points out that Gerry isn’t exactly haring all over town looking for Helen. Gerry protests that he went to Anna’s and Russell replies: “well you’re a one man SAS crack unit!” “Do you want my opinion?” asks Russell, and Gerry replies: “will I like it?” “Of course not, it’ll be based in reality”, says Russell.
- Back to Helen alone in the bar. James and his friend CLIVE (Paul Brightwell) enter, discussing Clive’s new restaurant venture. James sees Helen and goes over and re-introduces himself as “the rather annoying, chatty bloke from the tube”. He sees the look on her face and says: “it’s only a job, you’ll get another one” but her lack of response tells him there’s something else wrong. “When I left you at the tube earlier I came home and found my boyfriend in bed with another woman”, Helen tells him. “I’m sorry, what an idiot”, says James, and Helen replies: “oh, you weren’t to know”. “No, I mean your boyfriend, what an idiot”, he says. “Well if it makes you feel any better you”, says James, “you see that bloke over there (Clive), not only does he own a matching set of crocodile skin suitcases, but his favourite TV programme is Baywatch, so you see there’s always someone sadder than you”. They banter some more and then James says: “well if you decide you want company then we’re over here, I’m really sorry Helen”. James leaves.
- Cut to Gerry and Helen walking into the same bar, passing James and Clive. Gerry and Helen drink furiously at the bar, before retreating to a table.
- Anna then enters the bar in the previous story, and Helen tells her what happened, before crying onto her shoulder.
- Back to the other plot strand, and Gerry receives a call on his mobile. “This morning was sensational”, Lydia says, but he pretends not to be able to hear her and goes back to drinking with Helen.
- In the other story James leaves the bar and waves at Helen as he goes.
- Outside, James is waiting in a cab as Anna helps Helen out, and offers to give them a lift.
- In the other story, Gerry and Helen are now eating a curry.
- Back to Anna helping a drunken Helen into her flat. “He didn’t fancy me”, mumbles Helen, “he was just giving us a lift”. “Well let me tell you”, says Anna, “if he’d been that concerned about me, I wouldn’t be helping you into bed right now”. Anna then tells Helen that she’s going to be staying with her for a while.
- Back to the other story. Gerry helps a drunk Helen into bed.
- He then talks to himself in the mirror, reminding himself what a close call he encountered earlier. “This is far more worrying than the first one”, he says, “and you’re talking to yourself in the mirror – really bad sign”.
- Intercut sequences of Helen being nursed back to health by Anna and Gerry respectively, and then telling Gerry that due to the lack of PR jobs she’s going to have to look for some part-time work. We also see Anna encouraging Helen to get a change of image – they look at a picture of a woman with a blonde bob in a magazine. We then see Helen: getting a job as a waitress; despairing about the lack of tips; having her hair cut and dyed in the other story; then taking a job in the sandwich delivery place she passed at the beginning of the film; and finally having her hair finished.
- Cut to Helen serving in the restaurant. A cheeky eater asks her what she does when she’s not serving in the restaurant. “I get up about 7.30am, make and deliver sandwiches in the West End during the day before I come here at around 6 o’clock and then finish at midnight…then if I’ve got any energy after that I give my boyfriend a blow-job…would you like any mayonnaise with that?” is Helen’s response.
- Round at Anna’s, Helen is despondent. “You were together for two and a half years, and you’ve been sitting here like suicide on a stick for almost two weeks, but bollocks to him”, says Anna. “Why hasn’t he even called to admit that he’s a twat?”, wonders Helen, before announcing that she’s “over” him. Anna begs to differ, however, arguing that because she’s still counting how long they’ve been apart in days, and also because she’s reading Gerry’s horoscope, that she isn’t over him at all. The doorbell then rings, and Helen panics, fearing it’s Gerry. She tries to get Anna to answer the door, but she refuses on the grounds that she’s not dressed, and Helen is forced to go and answer the door herself.
- She goes downstairs muttering “bollocks to him” under her breath, over and over. However when she answers it, it turns out to be James.
- Cut to James and Helen drinking a milkshake together in a café. James tries to get some banter going with Helen, but she’s still not in the mood. “Look James maybe I shouldn’t be here”, she says, “I’m sorry I’m not being fair…you know under normal circumstances…you’re really nice, and funny, my friend Anna thinks you’re cute”. James interrupts her to make a gag about how he’s wasted his money buying a milkshake for the wrong girl. He then delivers a speech about his only goal is to cheer her up, and that the fact that he finds her moderately attractive simply makes the job that bit easier. “So having firmly established the ground rules what are you doing two weeks on Saturday?” “Probably killing myself”, Helen replies, and James says: “what time does that finish? Do you like boats?”
- Cut to a shot of some sailing boats on a screen. Helen is curled up in Gerry’s arms. “Do you know we haven’t done that for two months?”, she says, before asking him “how did one of my Waterford Crystal brandy glasses get into the laundry?” Gerry denies having any knowledge of this, but Helen continues to wonder whether, after she came home from being sacked, she saw two brandy glasses on the dresser. He continues to deny there were two glasses there, and then turns the conversation around so that he’s aggrieved that she’s accusing him of cheating. “Gerry for God’s sake I asked a simple question there’s no need to become Woody Allen”, says Helen, in response.
- Cut to James dropping Helen off at home after their milkshake encounter. He tells her she’s going to be fine.
- Brief intercut scene of Helen working in the sandwich shop, Lydia calling up the sandwich shop and speaking to the owner, and then smiling and putting down the phone.
- Helen walks towards a big office block carrying her sandwiches.
- Helen comes home after her bad day ranting about her sandwich-making job. Gerry, however, is off out to the library. He kisses her goodbye, and then leaves.
- Cut to Gerry walking down the street. Helen then appears round the corner and the magical music we hear occasionally reappears. Helen follows Gerry for a while, until he enters the library.
- Cut to inside the library, where Gerry is on the pay-phone to Lydia, telling her that Helen followed him, so he’s had to come to the library. “Of course I can’t come now”, he says, “what if she’s still waiting or lurking round the corner”. We can hear Lydia going ballistic down the phone, saying that she’s taken two hours off work for their meeting…
- Cut to Lydia on the phone. “I booked our hotel in Dorset are we still going?” she rants, “I mean do you want to cancel it? Is she going to follow us there?” Lydia then asks Gerry if he wants to end things, and we cut back to…
- Gerry, mumbling yes then correcting himself and saying no. He stutters and mutters and then confirms that they’re going to Dorset, says that they’re going to have a great time, and then says he’ll talk to her tomorrow, before putting the phone down.
- Anna returns from Gerry’s with all of Helen’s possessions, saying that there was no sign of Lydia. The phone then rings and it’s James – he wants to take Helen out that night. She agrees to meet him.
- Cut to James getting off the phone with Helen. He turns to CLAUDIA (Nina Young) and they discuss whether she should go away or not. James urges her to do so, he can handle things.
- Outside, we see James talking to his wheelchair-bound MOTHER (Virginia McKenna), about moving into London. They have a laugh together and James reiterates his Monty Python joke from earlier (“no one expects the Spanish Inquisition”).
- Cut to Gerry in the pub with Russell. “Lydia’s becoming more and more demanding”, he says, “and you feel bad because Helen’s working night and day to keep the money coming in, but you’ve asked Helen to come on a research trip to Dorset with you, knowing she wouldn’t be able to, to cover up the fact that you’re really taking Lydia…and despite the fact that Lydia gave you an out on the phone, which you didn’t take, you’re having a moral dilemma”. Russell goes on to call Gerry a “morality free zone”, and hedges a bet that Gerry’s talking to himself in the mirror again. “You’ve no compassion, none”, says Gerry, “I don’t why I bother confiding in you”. Russell says that he’s “here to help”, but then begins giggling uncontrollably.
- Cut to James laughing, as he entertains the rest of a dinner party (including Helen) with his Monty Python impression. Helen and James make eyes at each other across the table.
- Cut to James and Helen walking home together. James is urging Helen to start her own PR company. They arrive at her front door and he kisses her goodnight. As he walks away he says: “you know, everything happens for the best, it’ll all work out”. He encourages her to wear something warm on Saturday for their river date.
- Cut to a shot of a Natwest sign for starting up a new business. She enters the bank.
- Round at Anna’s Helen is filling in a small business application form. Anna innocently asks what other ideas James has run past her, but Helen bats away her suggestion describing James as “just a friend”, going on to say that she’s “not even remotely interested in him romantically”. “So how come last night was the first night you didn’t ask if anyone had called the second you walked in the door?” asks Anna.
- Cut to Helen opening a letter which says that he small business loan has been approved.
- Montage sequence of Helen and Anna decorating an office, and then Helen working in the office and being brought a sandwich by an assistant.
- Cut to Lydia’s office (in the other storyline). She is giving Helen a dressing down that four of the staff have been struck down with food poisoning after eating her sandwiches. Lydia dismisses a downtrodden Helen.
- Cut to Lydia telling Gerry that Helen has been delivering sandwiches to her office. “Today I had reason to summon her”, says Lydia, before confessing: “well I made up a reason to summon her if I’m honest”. Gerry goes ballistic, and Lydia defends herself by saying that she wanted to see what Helen has got that is preventing him from leaving her. “And I have to say I ended our brief meeting at a bit of a loss”, she says. “Gerry, I’m a woman”, Lydia continues, “we don’t say what we want, but we reserve the right to be pissed off if we don’t get it…that’s what makes us so fascinating”.
- Gerry is sitting in bed when his phone rings. It’s Russell, and Gerry answers as Helen comes in through the door. Russell starts speaking: “listen, wherever you were tonight”, he says, “you weren’t with me, Helen called here looking for you”. Gerry looks worried as he hangs up the phone. “God I was so worried”, Gerry says, “where have you been?” “I went to Anna’s”, Helen replies, “I needed to see a friendly face…I’ve had a horrible day, I met Cruella De Ville’s less nice sister this morning she completely deflated me”. “I know”, mutters Gerry, and Helen asks him how he knows, and he backtracks, wriggling out of the potential situation. She flops down on the bed next to him and says: “where were you earlier? I really needed to talk to you”. He explains that he was at the library, and she despairs: “oh God you’re always at the library…I’m sick of waiting on tables…I know when you finish the book we’ll be millionaires but when are you going to finish it?” Gerry looks very guilty. “I’m going to finish it very soon Helen, very soon”, he says, ominously. He then prepares to make a confession, but realises that Helen has fallen asleep, and isn’t listening.
- Cut to the river, and the other plotline. Helen and Clive cheer on James as he rows along The Thames in a race against another boat.
- Cut to Helen in the other story on the far bank of the river, walking along with Anna. “It’s really weird”, says Helen, “I knew there would be a boat race today”. Anna changes the subject: “why hasn’t he asked you to go with him to Dorset?” Helen replies that he has, but she has to work, and adds that it will do him good to get away, get some space. Helen then asks Anna if she dropped a brandy glass in the laundry basket at their party. “Sounds like a ridiculous thing to do”, says Anna, “it was almost certainly me”. Helen then admits to going “quietly mad”.
- Back in the other storyline, however, James team win the boat race and Helen and Clive celebrate on the sideline.
- Cut to later on, and James is leading a sing-along with his rowing mates that Helen is participating in.
- Cut to Gerry and Lydia strolling along. “Are you sure it’s just writer’s block?” she asks, “you seem so distant”. They pass a pub and Gerry peers in through the window, where he sees Helen dancing with all the rowers. Lydia walks on regardless, and Gerry follows her. “Maybe it isn’t writer’s block at all”, she says, “maybe it’s Helen-block…I don’t want to hear about Helen, I don’t care about Helen – the trouble is, you do, quite clearly”. She storms off, before calling back to him: “I just thought of a great finish for your book – ‘The End’”. He lets her go and then goes up to the door of the bar, but can’t quite bring himself to enter. He slopes off in the other direction.
- Cut to inside the pub. Helen, James and Clive discuss Clive’s restaurant, and Helen lets slip that she opened Pierre Claude’s restaurant at her old company. “I heard that was a really classy do”, says Clive, enthusiastic. Helen volunteers to try and organise a launch for him, and Clive is thrilled.
- Shot of the night sky.
- Helen and James are on a boat in the middle of The Thames. “You’re very thoughtful James, you give out an awful lot”, says Helen, and he returns the compliment. She starts talking about the relevance of the bridge to her (her great grandfather helped to build it), and he makes fun of her so she playfully hits him, and they share “a moment”, and he moves in to kiss her. She pulls back, however, and says: “I know this is an ideal kissing moment…it’s perfect…and I’m not not feeling like it would be nice, but I don’t really know anything about you, and I’m still on the rebound”. He then admits he’s on the rebound from a girl called PAMELA. “My whole life pivots around me and Pamela breaking up”, he says. “When was that?” asks Helen. “1973 – we were eight”, jokes James, and she laughs. He continues to joke about Pamela leaving him, but then he’s interrupted by Helen just grabbing him and kissing him. She admits she’s still confused, and puts the kiss down to a “lapse of concentration”, however, and he says: “I don’t want to be a confusion in your life Helen, I really don’t, but something’s happened to me since I met you that I wasn’t expecting…”, his sentence tails off as Helen puts her fingers to his lips and they kiss again.
- Helen and James have sex.
- She wakes up the next morning to find a note by her pillow. “Now that’s what I call a big lapse of concentration”, reads the note. Helen smiles and buries her head in the pillows.
- Cut to Lydia collecting Gerry from the flat. She honks the horn and makes a real scene, and Gerry says: “why don’t you take out a full page ad in adulterers’ weekly?”
- Intercut sequence showing: Gerry and Lydia driving down to Dorset; Helen delivering sandwiches; Clive’s restaurant opening; Helen serving in the restaurant; Helen working the room at the launch party, but then being stunned by the appearance of Gerry.
- Helen approaches Gerry. “What do you mean you want to see me?” she says, “Jesus Christ Gerry”. She asks how he got in and he explains that one of the waiters is a friend of Russell’s. She tells him that he can’t just turn up on such an important night for her, and he tells her that this is the most important bit of “turning up” he’s ever done. She says that she can’t talk inside, and leads him out, watched by James.
- Outside, Gerry tells her that they’ve “been through too much just to drop this”. Gerry says that he’s “really, really sorry” and that Helen is “too good not to fight for”. Helen is about to respond when she see James watching through the window. Gerry describes James as a “good looking bloke”, and asks her if she’s seeing him, before retracting his own question as it’s not his place to ask.
- Meanwhile inside the party Clive approaches James. “That him?” Clive asks, and James replies: “guess so”. “Does she know about Claudia?” asks Clive, and James says no, before adding: “I really like her Clive…I’m confused, I feel a bit lost suddenly”.
- Outside, Helen tells Gerry that she really has to go back inside, and he pleads with her to come and see him. “Please Helen”, he begs, “there’s so much more I want to say – I miss you…I’m really proud of you”. He kisses her and she lets him. He leaves.
- Intercut scene showing Helen in waitress mode almost fainting, and then almost fainting at the restaurant launch party simultaneously.
- She returns to the party and is congratulated by Clive on the launch. Helen asks if he’s seen James, and Clive explains that James had to go.
- Cut to Helen as a waitress, calling Gerry in Dorset…
- Cut to Gerry in Dorset, the phone ringing, and Lydia pouring alcohol down his neck. The phone carries on ringing and Helen hangs up.
- Cut to the other story, where Helen is telling Anna where James is. “Business trip, Newcastle or something”, says Helen, “his secretary wasn’t very forthcoming”. Anna fires a series of questions at Helen, none of which she has the answers for, and Helen loses it. “Ease up with the questions Anna!” Anna then lets her know that Gerry called. “That’s just terrific”, says Helen, “two months ago I want Gerry to call and James comes round, now I want James to call and Gerry calls”.
- Cut to James, in a hotel room, thinking about calling Helen. In the end he resists, however.
- In the other story, Helen is on the phone to Gerry telling him about her strange dream. “That’s it”, says Gerry, “I’m taking away your Class 1 drugs for a week”. “Anyway”, says Helen, “there’s something else I wanted to tell you – I fainted at work the other night, and I don’t usually faint…”
- Helen is interrupted by the sound of Lydia breaking something in the bathroom.
- “What the hell was that?” she asks. Gerry makes up some fiction about the people in the next door room, and Helen tries to finish her story but then Lydia comes hopping into the room making lots of noise. Gerry tries to shut her up but Lydia ignores him, so Gerry knocks on the bedpost pretending it’s the waiter delivering sandwiches, and tells Helen he’ll call her back later on.
- Helen, on the other end of the line, then finishes her story, revealing that after she fainted she had a test, and it turns out she’s pregnant.
- Back to the Dorset hotel room. “Have you gone completely insane?” Gerry asks Lydia, “what are you trying to do?” He keeps asks her what she’s trying to do and she eventually comes clean. “I am trying to be your girlfriend, Gerry”, she says, “I am trying to win you back, it’s fairly simple, I am standing on the platform, at limbo central, with my heart and soul packed in my suitcase, waiting for the Gerry fucking express to roll in and tell me that my ticket is still valid, and that I may re-board the train, only the station announcer keeps coming on, and telling me that my train has been delayed as the driver has suffered a major panic attack in Indecision City, may I suggest you take the bus?!” “That’s what I am trying do to you cripple!”, she shouts. “Except it is quite clear that is never going to happen”, says Lydia, gingerly. Gerry doesn’t reply, and Lydia takes this as a clear no. She packs up her stuff and storms out, telling Gerry never to call her, and shouting: “it’s over! Again!”
- Cut to Gerry meeting up with Russell in the pub. “I did it Russell”, says Gerry, and Russell thinks he means he finished his book. “Don’t be ridiculous Russell I’m a novelist I’m never going to finish the book”, he says, “I mean the affair, the sordid affair with Lydia, I’ve blown her out, in Dorset…I was decisive, but fair”, he continues. “God I feel like I’ve got out of jail”, he goes on, “no more lies, no more deceit…it’s over”. Russell asks how Lydia feels about the split, and Gerry admits that she was upset, but then explains how he wants to get back before Helen comes home from work. He rushes off.
- Cut to Helen working in the restaurant. She overhears a couple arguing – the man has bought the woman flowers, and the woman is concerned this gesture means he’s guilty about something.
- Cut to Helen returning home. Gerry appears out of nowhere and thrusts a glass of champagne under her nose, and then to her dismay sees some flowers he’s bought her.
- Cut to Helen in the other story, talking to Gerry. “That image of her sitting on top of you”, she says, “oh God I don’t know why I agreed to come here”. Gerry tries to touch her but he bats his hands away, and then he begs and pleads and tells he’s sorry and that the affair is over. Helen gets up to leave, and then Gerry tells her that he’s stopped writing his book, and that he can’t do anything without her. He asks her to come back to him, and reminds her how good they are together, before his phone rings.
- Cut to Lydia on the other end. “I’m late Gerry”, she says, “I’m four days late, and I’m never late”.
- Back to Gerry, he bluffs and bullshits that it was Russell on the phone. He pops out to the toilet whilst Helen uses 1471 to return the call.
- “Why are you pretending I’m Russell”, says Lydia, “you know I hate that…Gerry answer me”. “It’s Helen, actually”, says Helen, “I interrupted you once faking your orgasm, sorry I can’t be more specific”. Helen dumps the phone on the table and Gerry emerges. “You wanker”, she says, “you sad, sad wanker”.
- Lydia hangs up the phone at her end.
- Cut to Helen ranting to Anna. “God I feel like such a mug”, she says, “a useless, no-good, shagging, despicable, lying, two-faced, pissing, shagging wanker”. “You know what the worst bit is?” she continues, “I felt like I was being unfaithful to James just by being there”. Anna thinks that sounds like the best bit, and Helen then admits she thinks she’s blown it with James.
- Cut to Russell in the pub. He blames British Telecom and all the new technology for “condemning the average red-blooded Englishman to a life of terminal monogamy”. Gerry lets slip that Lydia might be pregnant, and this is too much for Russell, who begins roaring with laughter. “I must admit being with you makes waiting for the next episode of Seinfeld much easier to bear”, he says. Gerry wonders why everything’s going wrong and Russell replies: “to use boxing parlance, you’ve just lost”.
- Cut to Gerry and Helen in the kitchen in the other plot strand. Gerry tells Helen that she’s been slightly distant of late, and she admits that she’s got an interview for a PR job, and as she tells Gerry this he opens the blinds to see Lydia waiting outside. “Jesus Christ!” he exclaims, and then tries to bluff his way out of a situation but Helen opens the blinds and he fears the worst. Lydia isn’t there, however.
- Shot of Lydia, just to the left of the window, making a call on her mobile.
- Inside the flat, the phone rings, and it’s Lydia, who says that she really needs to talk to him. “Come by my apartment tomorrow night at 8”, she says, “it’s important”.
- Inside the flat, Gerry bluffs and bullshits that it’s Russell on the phone, before hanging up. Gerry asks her what the other thing was she wanted to tell him, and she replies: “doesn’t matter, it’s not important”.
- Cut to Helen in the other story at work. She tries to pluck up the courage to call James, but struggles, hanging up when she gets through to his receptionist. She heads off out, mumbling something to her assistant about going to the shops.
- Cut to Helen in the same café she first met James in.
- She then turns up outside James’ place of work, but can’t bring herself to enter.
- She walks on, and is about to enter another café when she bumps into a man walking out, and it’s James. They have a very awkward conversation, and eventually he admits that he wanted to call her, but that he didn’t because of Gerry, and also because he didn’t want to presume they were seeing each other. “You think I go to bed with all successful oarsmen I encounter?” she jokes. He then receives a call on his mobile, and explains that his mother’s had to go into hospital for some tests, and that he should go. Helen then offers to go with him, and he thanks her for the gesture but says that his mother’s quite frail, so it’s maybe not the best idea. He then asks her if she wants to come for dinner at Clive’s that night, and she says that she’d love to. She tells him not to worry about his Mum, and to remember Monty Python, as they head their separate ways.
- Cut to James arriving at hospital, and kissing the woman we met earlier on the lips.
- Back to the other plotline. Helen sits with Anna, who asks her if Gerry’s excited about being a father. “He doesn’t know yet, there never seems to be the right moment somehow”, says Helen. They decide to have a drink to celebrate. “Brandy?” asks Helen, and Anna replies: “no, makes me vomit”.
- Montage of Helen and James going out for dinner, walking home, and then kissing.
- Cut to Helen in the office. We see she’s drawing pictures of James rowing in her diary. She goes back through her diary, checking a date…
- Helen comes home to Anna, holding a pregnancy test that’s positive. Anna asks if its James’, and Helen says that it is. She also explains that she took 6 tests, just to be sure, and all were positive. “What are you going to do?” Anna asks, and we cut to…
- Helen goes to visit James at work but is informed by his secretary that he isn’t in, and has gone to hospital to visit his mother with his wife. Helen walks out, stunned, and leans her head up against the window.
- Cut to Helen getting out a cab outside the hospital, and seeing James being intimate with the woman from earlier, who we presume to be his wife.
- Back to the other story. “There’s something I want you to know”, Helen says to Gerry, “Anna doesn’t drink brandy, it makes her vomit…and those glasses weren’t used at the party, they only come out for special dinners, you know that”. Gerry’s puzzled, so Helen just comes straight out with it: “are you having an affair? Yes, or no”. He denies it categorically, and then she heads off for her job interview. “Are you going to be here when I get back?” she asks, and he says that he will be.
- Cut to James calling Helen’s flat. Anna answers the phone and tells him that he’s got a “damn nerve” phoning them.
- James turns up round at the flat, banging on the door and shouting that he doesn’t know what’s going on. “You don’t know what’s going on?” she says, opening the door, “well I’ll tell you then – she saw you, at the hospital, with your wife”. Anna slams the door in James’ face, and he runs off, cursing.
- He goes to their favourite café but can’t find Helen there.
- He then goes to Clive’s restaurant but can’t find her there either.
- He then heads for the bar where he first met Helen, but she’s not there either.
- Finally he runs through the rain to the bridge from earlier, and finds her there. He approaches her, and tries to get her to listen, but instead she does the talking: “I never want to see you again”, she says, “I have been through enough, for one year I stupidly believed that here was a man who was different from other men, but it is clear I made a mistake, but please do me a favour and go away”. She begins walking away and he shouts after her: “I am married Helen but I am separated…the woman you saw today was the woman I married three years ago, we separated six months ago and soon we’ll be divorced…”. He goes on to say that he’s wanted to tell her so many times, but also reveals that CLAUDIA (his wife) agreed to keep up the pretence that they’re still married for his ill mother’s sake.
- Cut to Gerry arriving at Lydia’s place. “Ten minutes Lydia and don’t ever turn up at my kitchen window again”, he says.
- Back to the scene in the rain. “If we aren’t going to be together”, says James, “then let’s make sure it’s for the right reason – but there is no reason, none, and it can be erased in a split second”.
- Back to Lydia’s. There’s a knock at the door and Lydia calls for Gerry to get it, but when he opens the door Helen is standing there. Lydia then appears behind Gerry, and tells Helen she’s “right on time”.
- Back to the scene in the rain. Helen asks James if he’s telling the truth, and he says that he is. He approaches and requests “permission to engage the enemy”, before kissing her.
- “I can’t do the interview just now”, says Lydia, “I’m deciding whether to keep your boyfriend’s baby”.
- Back to the rain. “James, there’s something I have to tell you”, says Helen.
- Meanwhile in the other scene Helen is in shock, and runs off, chased by Gerry.
- Rain scene. Helen bottles telling James about the baby, and says that she should call Anna and let her know she’s safe. As she crosses the street to the pay phone James tells her he loves her, but then we see a van coming quickly along the road and cut to…
- Gerry pursuing Helen down a flight of stairs…
- Intercut scene of Helen falling down the stairs, and being hit by the van.
- Intercut shots of Helen being rushed along hospital corridors by doctors and James and Gerry (in their respective stories).
- A doctor leaves the surgery and asks James if he’s her husband. He replies that he will be, as they plan to marry. The doctor tells him that Helen has suffered major internal injuries, and has lost her baby.
- In the other story, Gerry is told the same thing by another doctor.
- In both scenes the men are asked if they knew that Helen was pregnant. Both men then ask if Helen is going to be ok, and neither gets a reply out of the doctor.
- Cut to James at Helen’s bedside. “Helen for some reason I know you can hear me”, he says, “I’m glad we got things sorted out, tonight, I’m glad you caught the train that day, I’m going to make you so happy, I promise”. He hugs her and begins crying on her shoulder, and we fade to…
- Helen waking up in the other story, to Gerry’s delight.
- Brief shots of the bridge, the café, the tube pulling in, before we go back to the scene.
- Cut to the hospital ward. James appears and is informed by a doctor that his mother is showing signs of improvement. James walks past a room with Helen and Gerry in it.
- Inside the room, Gerry is trying to get back in with Helen, but she can’t even look at him. She tells him that she wants him to go away.
- Outside, James leaves his mother and elsewhere in the hospital, Helen is getting out. “You’ve had a very luck escape Helen”, says the doctor, as she leaves.
- Helen rushes to try and catch the elevator, but just fails, and when she gets into the lift James is there. She drops her earring, and he picks it up like the beginning of the film, and he says: “cheer up, you know what the Monty Python boys say…”. “Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition”, Helen replies, to James’ surprise.
- Final image: they look at one another, and the film goes to a freeze-frame.
- Did you enjoy this post? Why not check out our analysis of THE STING?
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