Kate Morton

The House at Riverton aka The Shifting Fog

© 2007

For Davin,

who holds my hand on the roller-coaster


Film Script

Final draft, November 1998, pp. 1-4


Written and directed by Ursula Ryan ©1998

MUSIC: Theme song. Nostalgic music of the type popular during and immediately following the First World War. Though romantic, the music has an ominous edge.


A country road flanked by green fields that stretch forever. It is 8.00 pm. The summer sun still lingers on the distant horizon, loath to slip, finally, beyond. A 1920s motor car winds, like a shiny black beetle, along the narrow road. It whizzes between ancient brambly hedgerows blue in the dusk, crowned with arching canes that weep toward the road.

The glowing headlights shake as the motor car speeds across the bumpy surface. We draw slowly closer until we are tracking right alongside. The final glow of sun has disappeared and night is upon us. The early moon is full, casting ribbons of white light across the dark, glistening car bonnet.

We glimpse, inside the dim interior, the shadowy profile of its passengers: a MAN and WOMAN in evening dress. The man is driving. Sequins on the woman’s dress shimmer when they catch the moonlight. Both are smoking, the orange tips of cigarettes mirroring the motor car’s headlights. The WOMAN laughs at something the MAN has said, tips her head back and exposes beneath her feather boa, a pale, thin neck.

They arrive at a large set of iron gates, the entrance to a tunnel of tall, dusky trees. The motor car turns into the driveway and makes its way through the dark, leafy corridor. We watch through the windscreen, until suddenly we break through the dense foliage and our destination is upon us.

A grand English manor looms on the hill: twelve gleaming windows across, three high, dormer windows and chimneys punctuating the slate roof. In the foreground, the centrepiece of a broad manicured lawn, sits a grand marble fountain lit with glowing lanterns: giant ants, eagles and enormous fire-breathing dragons, with jets shooting water one-hundred feet into the air.

We maintain our position, watching as the car continues without us around the turning circle. It stops at the entrance to the house and a young FOOTMAN opens the door, extends his arm to help the WOMAN from her seat.

SUB-TITLE: Riverton Manor, England. Summer, 1924.


The warm, dim servants’ hall of Riverton Manor. The atmosphere is one of excited preparation. We are at ankle level as busy servants traverse the grey-stone floor in all directions. In the background we hear champagne corks popping, orders being given, lower servants being scolded. A service bell rings. Still at ankle level, we follow a female HOUSEMAID as she heads toward the stairs.


We climb the dim stairs behind the HOUSEMAID; clinking sounds tell us that her tray is loaded with champagne flutes. With each step our view lifts-from her narrow ankles, to her black skirt hem, the white tips then pert bow of her apron ribbon, blonde curls at the nape of her neck-until, finally, our view is hers.

The sounds from the servants’ hall fade as music and laughter from the party grow louder. At the top of the stairs, the door opens before us.


A burst of light as we enter the grand marble entrance hall. A glittering crystal chandelier suspends from the high ceiling. The BUTLER opens the front door to greet the well-dressed man and woman from the car. We do not pause but cross to the back of the entrance hall and the broad French doors that lead to the BACK TERRACE.


The doors sweep open. Music and laughter crescendo: we are in the midst of a glittering party. The atmosphere is one of postwar extravagance. Sequins, feathers, silks, as far as the eye can see. Coloured Chinese paper lanterns strung above the lawn flutter in the light summer’s breeze. A JAZZ BAND plays and women dance the charleston. We weave through the crowd of assorted laughing faces. They turn toward us, accepting champagne from the servant’s tray: a woman with bright red lipstick, a fat man made pink by excitement and alcohol, a thin old lady dripping in jewels and holding, aloft, a long, tapered cigarette-holder emitting a lazy curlicue of smoke.

There is a tremendous BANG and people gaze above as glittering fireworks tear open the night sky. There are squeals of pleasure and some applause. Reflections of Catherine wheels colour upturned faces, the band spins on, and women dance, faster and faster.



A quarter-mile away, a YOUNG MAN stands on the dark edge of the Riverton lake. Party noise swirls in the background. He glances toward the sky. We draw closer, watching as reflected fireworks shimmer red across his beautiful face. Though elegantly dressed, there is a wildness about him. His brown hair is dishevelled, sweeping his forehead, threatening to obscure dark eyes that madly scan the night sky. He lowers his gaze and looks beyond us, to someone else, obscured by shadow. His eyes are damp, his manner suddenly focused. His lips part as if to speak, but he does not. He sighs.

There is a CLICK. Our gaze drops. He clutches a gun in his trembling hand. Lifts it out of shot. The hand remaining by his side twitches then stiffens. The gun discharges and drops to the muddy earth. A woman screams, and the party music reels on.



The Letter

Ursula Ryan

Focus Film Productions

1264 N. Sierra Bonita Ave #32

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