Greenwood

Toby Venables

(UK)

In advance of a new screenwriting course at Anglia Ruskin University, led by Toby Venables, we feature Toby’s short script Greenwood below, co-written with Felicity Evans.

*****

Greenwood

INT. ALEC’S HALL – DAY

A handsome, fresh-faced young man in the uniform of a British Tommy stands framed within the front doorway of a beautiful, upper-middle-class country house.

He is ready to leave, hand on the latch. Hesitating, he turns to face us, looking awkward in a uniform that hangs loose on his slight frame. He seems anxious. Quietly afraid.

TEDDY

Are you proud of me?

We now see he is addressing DR ALEC DENHOLM (50) within the hallway. ALEC is immaculately groomed and dressed – every inch the Edwardian gentleman. He smiles. No fear here.

ALEC

What a question! I envy you! This is a chance I never had.

TEDDY looks, yearning for more, but…

ALEC

Well, then…

ALEC steps forward and shakes TEDDY’s hand stiffly. Handshake done, he steps back. TEDDY’s head droops. He goes to leave.

The moment slows, seems to stretch out. As TEDDY turns this time it reveals that his back is entirely blown open: a gaping, burnt and bloody wound.

ALEC’s eyes widen, his mouth falling open in silent horror.

CUT TO:

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – DAY

A sharp gasp. ALEC’s eyes flick open, the daydream gone.

He stands before the mantelpiece of Edwardian gentleman’s study – everything in its place. He checks his appearance in the mantelpiece mirror and adjusts his tie. Momentarily his gaze wanders to two framed pictures either side of the clock.

One is of a beautiful, elegant woman in her late 20s, dressed in the manner of the 1890s. ALEC’s wife, Eleanor. The other is a photo of his son, TEDDY in army uniform. Tucked behind the photo frame, a crumpled telegram. Next to that, a card with the crest of Buckingham Palace bearing a pre-printed message of sympathy from the King and Queen.

The clock chiming the half hour snaps him out of his reverie. 8.30am. ALEC takes his place at his desk, turning his attention on the morning’s post. Three letters today.

At the last chime, a maid, KITTY (17) enters with a tea tray. She sets it down on the nearby table and pours, placing cup and saucer on the desk next to ALEC. He sips the tea and slices open the first letter.

KITTY stands, fidgety, waiting to be dismissed. ALEC realises she is still there, and dismisses her with a wave. She curtseys and leaves as ALEC moves on to the second letter. He stares at it for a moment. It is black-edged.

EXT. ALEC’S HOUSE – DAY

OPENING CREDITS play over scenes of a beautiful, ancient house, a quintessentially English garden of pruned hedges and immaculate lawn, a backdrop of woodland. Birds call and bees buzz in the spring sun. All nature is here. It is perfect.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – DAY

A butterfly basks on the windowsill. ALEC finishes addressing an envelope, caps his fountain pen and places the letter in a tray with two others. The desk is clear. ALEC sighs, looks at the clock. Only 9.10am. Again his attention wanders. He stands, turns, and for a moment stares at his son’s image.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – CONTINUOUS

Back in the present, ALEC’s eyes fall from the photo to the floor, then he gazes out at the sublime spring morning. He glances back at his empty desk, then reaches a decision.

INT. ALEC’S HALL – MOMENTS LATER

ALEC throws on an ancient tweed jacket and battered straw hat, almost colliding with KITTY as she appears with a tray of boiled eggs and toast. He calls out as he exits.

ALEC

I’ll take it outside today!

KITTY rolls her eyes and hurries after.

EXT. THE GARDEN – DAY

MONTAGE:

– ALEC pulls open the shed door and retrieves garden tools.

– On hands and knees, jacket slung over fork pronged into the lawn, ALEC digs eagerly with a trowel.

– He marvels at the spring shoots on a plant.

The sound of a steam train whistle shrills in the distance.

EXT. THE TOWPATH – DAY

A pair of army boots crunches along the track, falling into a march by force of habit. We do not see their owner.

EXT. RIVERBANK – DAY

ALEC stands having filled his watering can in the nearby river. He’s in shirt-sleeves, boots caked in earth, sweating. He takes in the glory of river. It looks cool and inviting. He stares, then takes a step closer, right to the edge. Could he jump? Would he?

A hand grasps his arm. Its owner is FARID SINGH (19), dressed in the uniform of a British Tommy with the addition of a khaki turban. His right arm is in a sling and a cast.

ALEC snaps out of his daze and FARID drops his hand, embarrassed. ALEC takes in FARID’s uniform, his war wounds.

ALEC

This is about Teddy…

INT. ALEC’S SITTING ROOM – DAY

FARID is perched on the sofa. ALEC enters with a tray of tea things. He is smiling, having thrown himself into the task.

ALEC

Sorry, you’ll have to make do with my attempt at tea. I gave the maid the afternoon off.

ALEC places the tray on the table, rather haphazardly pours tea and hands a cup to FARID. 

ALEC

Have you come far?

FARID

Southall.

ALEC

Ah, I worked at the Ealing Cottage Hospital when I was younger.

FARID

Yes, Teddy said.

After a moment’s awkward silence FARID puts down his teacup and pulls something out of his pocket. It’s a letter, one side blotched with a red-brown stain. He hands it over to ALEC, who takes it, tentatively.

FARID

He had it in his pocket. I… wanted to bring it in person.

ALEC looks at FARID, trying to process all this, then at the letter. It’s addressed to him. The blood – because it is blood – has soaked and dried over half the envelope.

ALEC

Thank you.

A beat filled only by the ticking clock.

FARID

Best be off. I’m supposed to be back by three.

ALEC

Let me send for a pony and trap.

FARID stands.

FARID

I wouldn’t dream of it.

EXT. ALEC’S HOUSE – DAY

FARID trudges down the path. ALEC watches him go from the open doorway.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – DUSK

ALEC sits in his chair staring at the unopened letter in his hands. He slices it open. It is written in pencil, at its end a sketch of a robin. He begins to read. As he does so, his face falls – then the hand holding the letter does the same.

INT. ALEC’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

ALEC lies in bed, head tossing in fitful sleep. The image of TEDDY’s torn and bloody body flashes – and he jolts awake, breathing hard. He turns, looks at the clock. 2.23am. Rising, wide awake now, he stands at the window, gazing towards the dark, distant woods. In the night a fox barks, as if calling.

With sudden purpose, he turns and heads out.

EXT. COUNTRYSIDE – NIGHT

In shirtsleeves and no hat, ALEC walks, nerves jangling. Everything is still. He stops at the edge of the woods. A breeze rustles the moonlit trees. ALEC plunges in.

EXT. THE WOODS – NIGHT

It feels different; heightened, magical. ALEC treads softly, as though afraid he’ll wake someone – or something.

There’s a sound. Movement. Is it an animal? No, the disturbance in the trees is at head height. He whirls around.

ALEC

Who’s there?

A groan, half-way between the creak of a tree trunk in the wind and a human voice. Suddenly, the ivy running along the ground and the trees spurts into vigorous movement. All around is the rustle and whir of stems extending.

ALEC staggers back, terrified. What could be causing this? Is he dreaming again? He turns, looking for…what?

Behind him a gnarled, twisted hand of knotted ivy tipped with thorny fingers stretches out. Beyond his shoulder, a hint of a face in the dark. The hand touches ALEC’s shoulder.

ALEC whips back round and screams, tumbling to the floor and scrabbling backwards. The ivy writhes at his feet. And, looming over him – an impossible figure: The GREEN MAN.

In shape he is human, but in place of muscles and skin are twisted branches. He points to ALEC’s heart. As he prods him, like a specimen, his thorny finger pierces ALEC’s shirt and skin. A spot of blood blooms. ALEC whimpers in terror.

The GREEN MAN cocks his head questioningly on one side. His voice, though little more than a whisper, seems to boom.

GREEN MAN

Why do you…grieve..?

His tone is unsympathetic. ALEC, uncomprehending, is paralysed with fear. The GREEN MAN gives a dismissive ‘Hmph’.

GREEN MAN

All that lives must die. What comes from the earth must return to the earth…

ALEC shakes his head in protest, finally finding his voice.

ALEC

Too soon! It was too soon!

The GREEN MAN’s head cocks the other way, as if he is contemplating something.

GREEN MAN

…but the earth also gives back.

He straightens, and spreads his hand out over the nearby earthen floor as if casting a spell.

GREEN MAN

You must plant the seed…

ALEC can only shake his head again, not understanding. The GREEN MAN looms closer, his tone more menacing.

GREEN MAN

Give the blood to the earth… and the earth… Will. Give. Back.

ALEC is breathing hard, terrified.

GREEN MAN

You will see! But know this…

The GREEN MAN leans forward, close to ALEC’s ear.

GREEN MAN

(whispering)

One year only…

The GREEN MAN straightens. The ivy writhes. ALEC scrabbles back in utter terror and flees the woods.

INT. ALEC’S BEDROOM – DAY

ALEC awakes in his bed. Bright daylight floods the bedroom. Relief! He looks at his clock. 8.48 – and he’s still in his shirt. Flinging back the covers, he finds he’s fully dressed – a bloom of drying blood on his shirt front. ALEC pulls out a long, black thorn and stares in disbelief.

INT. ALEC’S SITTING ROOM – MOMENTS LATER

ALEC tears downstairs to the sitting room and snatches up TEDDY’s letter. He stares at it, momentarily paralysed. The blood… Everything he’s ever been taught – as a Christian, as a man of science – goes against what he is about to do.

EXT. GARDEN – MOMENTS LATER

ALEC grabs the spade from the shed, slams the door, and hurries down his path towards the river.

EXT. THE WOODS – DAY

ALEC arrives in the clearing. Without pause, he digs a hole and buries the letter, patting it down like a good gardener.

MONTAGE:

– ALEC sits down nearby, a hint of stubble on his chin

– He waters the place he buried the letter

– Still waiting by the patch of ground, he’s half asleep. He starts, realises where he is, then stands. It’s growing dark. Slowly, he turns, defeated, and leaves the clearing.

INT. ALEC’S SITTING ROOM – NIGHT

ALEC is reading. The wind gets up, rustling the curtains. There’s a low rumble of thunder, a flash of lightning. ALEC gets up and crosses to the window; it starts to rain.

EXT. THE WOODS – NIGHT

In the clearing, as the rain hits the soil, the earth pulses. 

INT. ALEC’S HALL – NIGHT

ALEC wearily closes the sitting room door, and heads up the stairs. The thunder rumbles again. Rain lashes the windows.

A noise at the front door makes ALEC stop – a fumbled scraping sound. He turns. A sudden BANG on the door makes him jump. It’s not just a knock. It’s brutal. He stares at the door as it repeats BANG! BANG! BANG! Overcoming his fear, ALEC creeps down the stairs – and flings the door open.

Standing there – naked, wide-eyed, shivering and covered in mud – is TEDDY. For a moment ALEC can only stare in a state of terror. Then, every emotion bottled up since TEDDY’s death overwhelms him. He flings his arms around him, sobbing.

Finally, he draws back. TEDDY stares in utter bewilderment.

TEDDY

Who are you..? Who am I?

ALEC simply stares back.

INT. ALEC’S KITCHEN – EARLY MORNING

TEDDY, now clean and dressed, sits at the table in the kitchen, devouring eggs and bacon. ALEC, stethoscope around his neck, is taking TEDDY’s pulse. As TEDDY finishes, ALEC pushes a plate of toast towards him.

ALEC

Do you remember anything at all?

TEDDY shakes his head, attacking the toast. ALEC reaches out to feel TEDDY’s forehead. TEDDY flinches like a wild animal.

ALEC

It’s alright! I’m not going to hurt you… I’m your father.

ALEC slowly reaches out again. TEDDY allows it, but is wary. Satisfied, ALEC gently pushes back a lock of TEDDY’s hair, frowns at what he sees.

ALEC

You don’t remember that time you fell out of the tree in the garden?

TEDDY shakes his head, still chewing.

ALEC

Gave me and your mother quite a shock. Got a deep cut on your forehead. Left a nasty scar.

TEDDY touches the spot as if half-remembering it, and frowns. No scar. ALEC dismisses his puzzlement and smiles.

ALEC

Well, you seem the very picture of rude health…

KITTY enters suddenly from the back door. Both men turn. The sight of TEDDY makes her scream. TEDDY leaps up in fright – ALEC holds out his hand to KITTY, trying to calm her.

ALEC

It’s alright, it’s alright!

KITTY looks searchingly at ALEC. What’s going on?

ALEC

There was a mistake. Teddy’s alive.

They stare at each other for a moment.

ALEC

You can go about your work.

KITTY, still shaken, goes to leave the kitchen. TEDDY looks at her with a guileless grin. KITTY averts her eyes as she passes, embarrassed at being so brazenly ‘looked at’ – but darts a glance back at him as she leaves. ALEC notes the look that passes between them, and seems a little troubled by it.

INT. ALEC’S SITTING ROOM – DAY

ALEC is showing TEDDY his drawings.

TEDDY

I made these?

ALEC

Yes.

TEDDY pulls a watercolour of a poppy closer and looks at it. 

TEDDY

Papaver somniferum.

ALEC

That’s right! You do remember!

TEDDY gets up, grabs an apple from the bowl on the table and begins to eat it. He stares out of the window. 

TEDDY

What’s out there?

ALEC

The garden, the river, the village—

Before he finishes, TEDDY’s off. ALEC tries to follow, but…

INT. ALEC’S HALL – CONTINUOUS

…TEDDY is already out of the front door, which he has left open. ALEC watches him, framed in the doorway, gazing up and stretching in the sunshine like some kind of creature. 

KITTY is standing in the kitchen doorway, watching. She looks past ALEC at TEDDY with a smile. ALEC turns and looks her in the eye. She retreats inside. But the smile does not fade.

MONTAGE: EXT. COUNTRYSIDE – DAY

– TEDDY runs through a meadow, roaring like a child – he’s so full of life, of energy, he’s almost manic.

– TEDDY is climbing a tree.

– From the kitchen doorway, TEDDY snatches a bun from a cooling rack on the table, grinning at KITTY’s outrage.

– TEDDY watches a hare. On a scrap of paper he roughs out a crude sketch, different from his previous, delicate work. ALEC watches from a distance, thoughtful – conflicted.

EXT. THE GARDEN – DAY

It’s high summer. The air shimmers with heat; crickets chirp. TEDDY lies dozing under a tree. His hair is longer – a little wild. ALEC approaches, and TEDDY opens his eyes, sleepily.

ALEC

You didn’t come home last night.

TEDDY

I slept in a tree.

ALEC

You can’t just go running off! I have to insist…

TEDDY

(suddenly angry)

On what? What do you want from me?

ALEC doesn’t know how to answer. TEDDY grips his head.

TEDDY

Everything is so fuzzy.

ALEC

(softening)

Ted. You were hurt in a war— 

TEDDY

I know. You said. But I don’t remember. Were you there?

ALEC stiffens.

ALEC

No. But… I’m here now.

TEDDY rolls over, his mood shifting.

TEDDY

Heard a turtle dove today. They’ve been here for about a month now.

ALEC

How do you know that?

TEDDY shrugs, shakes his head.

TEDDY

I feel it. In here.

He places his hand on his chest. ALEC has a flash of memory: the GREEN MAN’s finger piercing his skin… TEDDY gets up – and winces, putting a hand to his back as if it is stiff. ALEC frowns.

ALEC

What’s the matter?

TEDDY

(laughing)

It’s that damn tree. Perhaps I’ll spend tonight in my bed after all.

He smiles at ALEC, who smiles back. But as ALEC watches him go his expression changes to concern, then stark realisation.

INT. ALEC’S KITCHEN – DAY

KITTY is busy packing picnic food into a wicker basket. TEDDY appears in the doorway, a little dishevelled, clearly having just woken up. She smiles and blushes when she sees him.

TEDDY

What’s all this?

ALEC suddenly enters, dressed in slightly crumpled summer linens with a Panama hat. This is the most relaxed we have ever seen him. His mood is irrepressibly upbeat.

ALEC

A picnic. By the river!

He claps TEDDY on the shoulder and heads to the back door. KITTY grins. TEDDY steals a stick of celery faster than KITTY can swat him away. He takes a bite as ALEC is heading out.

ALEC

Come on! Summer’s nearly over! This might be the last good day!

TEDDY smiles at KITTY, then he darts forward and lands a kiss on her cheek before departing with the celery stick in his mouth. KITTY puts her hand to the place where he kissed her.

EXT. TOWPATH – DAY

ALEC is sat on a rug, the picnic spread out messily. In the river, close to the bank, TEDDY is swimming and splashing and singing a random tune. ALEC smiles at him, then spots TEDDY’s sketchbook. He flips it open; raw but beautiful sketches – a hare, a magpie, a fox… Among them, a face that looks very much like the GREEN MAN, his hair and foliage wild and tangled. ALEC looks on it in wonder – then a splash of water makes him jump.

TEDDY laughs like a mischievous child from the water.

TEDDY

So, are you coming in? Or are you… afraid?

A second big splash and ALEC jumps to his feet, uttering sounds of outraged protest – mingled with laughter.

ALEC

I’ll have you know I was school swimming champion three years on the trot!

TEDDY

Well, what are you waiting for?

ALEC

I’m hardly dressed for it!

TEDDY’s shoulder’s droop in disappointment.

TEDDY

Well, if you’re not coming in, at least help me out.

TEDDY extends his hand towards ALEC. ALEC grasps it – and immediately TEDDY tries to haul him in. ALEC hauls back, teetering on the edge, and the two engage in tug-of-war, laughing like children as TEDDY splashes him mercilessly.

Suddenly, TEDDY’s laughter turns to coughing. It becomes more violent, his smile fades and he doubles up. ALEC, concerned, heaves him onto the bank, falling back as he does so, so TEDDY slumps across his lap, leaving ALEC cradling him in his arms like a babe. The coughing subsides, but TEDDY looks suddenly pale and ill. ALEC rocks him gently. TEDDY calms.

TEDDY

Mother used to do this, when I had a bad dream.

ALEC

Yes! Yes she did…

TEDDY frowns.

TEDDY

What happens when summer is over?

ALEC

(shrugging)

Autumn comes. Then winter.

TEDDY

Will I like them?

ALEC looks pained. He cannot answer.

INT. TEDDY’S BEDROOM – DAY

ALEC has put TEDDY into his bed with the help of KITTY, who stands in the doorway anxiously while ALEC tucks him in. ALEC retreats, leaving TEDDY apparently asleep. As he passes KITTY fixes ALEC with a hard look stopping him in his tracks.

ALEC

It’s nothing. A chill. He’ll be right as rain in the morning.

ALEC hurries away, not convinced by his own words.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – EVENING

The key turns in the lock. ALEC enters without shutting the door behind him and pours himself a large whisky. It shakes in his hand. He downs it in one and then catches sight of himself in the mirror – unshaven, drawn. As he looks, a dark shadow seems to move across the open doorway – the distinctive shape of the GREEN MAN. ALEC starts violently, turns, rushes to the door… But sees nothing there.

EXT. THE GARDEN – DAY

It’s breezy – an autumnal wind that holds a hint of frost to come. ALEC is on his knees with a trowel, pulling out dead or dying plants. He seems preoccupied – downcast. Suddenly, a muffled CRASH from inside makes him turn. He hurries to it.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – CONTINUOUS

ALEC rushes in to find TEDDY on the floor, the table overturned. When he turns him over, it is evident that TEDDY has deteriorated. He looks deathly, drawn, his flesh seeming to show signs of decay. ALEC is shocked at the sight of him.

Weakly, TEDDY holds out something in his hand, accusingly. ALEC sees it is the telegram telling of TEDDY’s death.

TEDDY

What is this?

ALEC

It’s… a mistake.

But he looks guilty. TEDDY continues, his voice hoarse.

TEDDY

When I came back, and stood on the doorstep, what did I say to you?

ALEC

“Who am I?”

TEDDY

Will you answer me now, truthfully? 

ALEC

You’re my son. And any mistakes… were only ever mine. 

ALEC breaks down, but TEDDY goes into a violent coughing fit. As he lowers his hand from his mouth, in his palm is a bloody tooth, his mouth bleeding. He looks terrified.

TEDDY

What’s happening to me?

EXT. THE WOODS – DAY

A distraught and ferociously angry  ALEC storms into the woods where he encountered the GREEN MAN – very different in daylight, dappled with sun. He stops and rails at the trees.

ALEC

A year! You said a year! It’s not over! It can’t be over!

He spins around, but there’s nothing. His anger dwindles to become desperation. He begins to break.

ALEC

(to himself)

Please…

The mute trees sway in the gentle breeze.

EXT. TOWPATH – DAY

Head lowered, ALEC steps out of the trees and looks to the towpath. A single figure is advancing along it – a farm labourer with a great scythe over his shoulder.

MUSIC: JOHN BARLEYCORN / MAGPIE LANE

Grim, ALEC suddenly understands. It is the time of reaping.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – DUSK

TEDDY, is lying on the sofa, covered in a blanket, his body turned away towards the wall. ALEC, in shirtsleeves and braces, pulls one curtain closed against the setting sun and gazes sadly at TEDDY – now a husk that’s barely breathing.

KITTY enters with a small, steaming bowl of something. ALEC simply looks at her and shakes his head sadly.

MUSIC ENDS.

INT. ALEC’S STUDY – NIGHT

ALEC is asleep in his armchair, in semi-darkness. A shadow seems to move over him. Spiky. Threatening. Familiar. The shadow of the GREEN MAN grows, begins to blot him out…

He starts awake, and looks across at the sofa, where KITTY – still here – is kneeling, holding TEDDY’s hand. TEDDY is stirring. ALEC goes over and kneels beside the sofa. KITTY wipes away a tear and moves to give ALEC space. A candle casts deep shadows, flickering in the breeze from the window.

ALEC

Teddy?

TEDDY, still turned away, half turns towards ALEC, his face emerging intermittently from shadow. It is horrific – eyes milky and colourless, skin peeling, flesh rotting like overripe fruit. His breathing is a hoarse rattle.

Son and father’s eyes meet – then ALEC starts to sob.

ALEC

I’m sorry…

TEDDY turns, drifting in and out of shadow. His breaths are slow and wracked with pain. His hand reaches slowly and grasps ALEC’s. ALEC’s sobs deepen.

Suddenly, out of the window, something catches ALEC’s eye. A face. The GREEN MAN is waiting. As ALEC stares, horrified and entranced, TEDDY gives one last breath. Then silence. His hand slackens. ALEC turns back – but it is already over.

ALEC closes his eyes and lowers his head. Tears roll silently. KITTY puts a hand on his shoulder. On the mantelpiece, in front of the picture of TEDDY in uniform is a wild, energetic sketch of a hare.

MONTAGE: VARIOUS – DAY

– In the STUDY, ALEC lifts TEDDY’s frail, lifeless body

– In the autumn WOODS, in the very place where TEDDY emerged from the earth, ALEC drives a spade into the ground

– ALEC and KITTY stand momentarily by the bare earth mound, then turn and slowly walk away

EXT. TOWPATH – EVENING

ALEC stands on the bank, looking into the water as the sun is fading. He seems a very different man now – tie and hat gone, clothes dishevelled, face unshaven. As he gazes into the water, he seems to come to a decision – one that changes his demeanour to one of calm certainty.

He steps into the water, fully clothed, slowly wading in. He goes deeper, up to his chest – then lets himself fall back. For a moment he floats like that – then he slowly begins to do the backstroke. He flips over and swims in the river as the sun sets. His face is calmer than we have ever seen it.

FADE TO BLACK AS MUSIC PLAYS – I WOULD THAT THE WARS WERE ALL OVER / JAMES FINDLAY – THEN FADE UP TO END CREDITS OVER:

EXT. THE WOODS – DAY

More time has passed. The light is rich and golden. The mound is now covered with a carpet of grass and wild flowers.

Toby Venables

Toby Venables co-created and co-wrote the BAFTA- and BIFA-winning Netflix movie His House—starring Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku and Matt Smith—alongside creative partner Felicity Evans. His House premiered at Sundance to rave reviews and is one of the few films to have scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Felicity and Toby continue to work on a host of commissioned feature films and TV series across multiple genres. These include fantasy, horror, sci-fi and thriller, IP and their own original ideas. They are currently working on several commissioned book adaptations and writer-director collaborations. Toby also lectures on writing and film at ARU in Cambridge.

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