First-Place Winner, May – October 2011
Screenplay Contest - Full-Length Series
"The Cullings Principle"
Written by Christine Autrand Mitchell
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christine Autrand Mitchell grew up in four countries and splits her time between writing and filmmaking. She is a Screenwriter, Producer, Director and Casting Director, and heads Entandem Productions. Christine coaches actors and writers, is a freelance editor, and also writes plays, fiction and non-fiction.
Additional Writer Information:
When you think you’ve lost everything, you may find destiny… In the heart of Victorian era London, the young attorney, Owen Cullings, searches for his beloved sister, reported dead in a brief letter. Convinced it’s a mistake, his charm and boyish looks allow his search through both high society and the city’s underbelly, as he comes to terms with both. After months of fruitless searching and growing deathly ill, he investigates his final lead, and uncovers what his career hasn’t prepared him for – discovering truths in himself…
In the heart of Victorian era London, the young attorney, Owen Cullings, searches for his beloved sister, reported dead in a brief letter. Convinced it’s a mistake, his charm and boyish looks allow him to search for her in both high society and the city’s underbelly. But after months of fruitless searching and becoming deathly ill, he investigates his final lead, the enigmatic Leopold Mahler, to uncover more than his world travels had ever prepared him for.
The Cullings Principle screenplay, copyright, and story idea below are owned by Christine Autrand Mitchell. No copying of any of the below pages is allowed unless approved by owner.
INT. ALIQUIS HOUSE - MERYTON'S OFFICE - DAY
At a desk in an upscale legal office overstuffed with
books and briefs, elderly MERYTON writes a letter. The
V.O. spans the scene:
20th of June, 1855. Mr. Cullings,
We regret to inform you, by way of
this lamentably insolent and
impersonal letter, of the death of
Anna Liese Cullings on the Fifth
day of June of our year 1855.
Please be comforted by the news
that her burial was attended to
lovingly. Yours Truly, Lester
Mertyon, Esquire, London
The office is on a busy upscale section of Fleet Street.
London is an overcrowded labyrinth of streets, buildings,
parks and squares. The sky is smoky and overcast.
Beyond, the Atlantic is limitless. A steamship speeds
toward New York, though farther inland cities lie
scattered. Under a jaundiced evening sky, Cincinnati
grows industrial out of a bucolic valley.
SUPER: "4 JULY, 1855 CINCINNATI, OHIO - CULLINGS RESIDENCE"
In a middle-class neighborhood, a Georgian hosts an
Independence Day party. MUSIC and VOICES are indistinct.
INT. SALON - EVENING
In a modestly furnished salon with world-wide tribal
pieces, ladies watch OWEN CULLINGS politely escape them.
He's a tall, well dressed 26 year old attorney with pink
cheeks and blond curls. MR. CULLINGS, prematurely aged,
crumples a letter into his son's hand and teeters away.
After reading it, Owen goes to a daguerreotype of his
younger sister, Anna Liese, who resembles him. Their
frail mother, MRS. CULLINGS, looks on.
INT. SALON - NIGHT
Outside the guests admire colorful FIREWORKS while inside,
in the darkness, Mrs. Cullings breaks down on the floor,
her skirts encircle her like a puddle.
Mr. Cullings and Owen collect her with difficulty and
seat her between them. The BLASTS cast grizzly shadows
but drown out his mother's wails.
One of the guests enters and approaches them. Mrs.
Cullings succumbs to her grief.
DREAM SEQUENCE - INT. ANNA LIESE'S LONDON ROOM - NIGHT
Anna Liese falls dead onto worn floorboards. A drop of
blood spills from her lips. She stares into nothing.
INT. OWEN'S ROOM - MORNING (BACK TO PRESENT)
Owen wakes and goes to the window: it's like any other
day except for the assembly of mourners.
INT. SALON - LATER
Mirrors are covered in black crepe. Mourners pray. Mrs.
Cullings looks infirmed while Mr. Cullings wanders, signs
of dementia apparent. Owen answers the door as AMELIE
ROUSSARD, a pretty look-alike, accompanies him.
You have all of our sympathies.
She will watch over you from Heaven
as no other angel has ever done--
Amelie, I should have asked you to
dinner the other night, but it
would have been inconsiderate on
such short notice.
Owen lets the mourners in as Amelie guides them. The
ladies distract him with condolences while his father
escapes. Owen redirects him toward the house.
Come Father, let's return home.
It's not time for your walk yet.
Come, Professor Cullings.
He ignores the ladies as he gathers his effects at the
coat rack. Mr. Cullings speaks a refined Midlands.
Owen, where are you going?
To work... Nothing I can do here.
There are arrangements to make.
It's only been a day.
Owen enters the room and interrupts the mourners.
No, it's been a month, according
to Meryton's letter. I need to
find out more.
Your sister would veer you to proper
manners and polite retorts.
Ah, but Anna Liese isn't here.
Be polite, young ladies are present.
He kisses his mother's cheek and escapes.
EXT. DOWNTOWN CINCINNATI - OWEN'S OFFICE - LATER
Owen hurries into his office building. The sign reads:
"Prater, Wilson and Cullings, Attorneys at Law".
INT. OWEN'S OFFICE - MOMENTS LATER
Owen sweeps inside followed by his young clerk, TIMOTHY.
...and I need Prater's contact in
London. I don't recall his name,
Timothy. He knows.
Yes, Mr. Cullings... I'm very
sorry for your loss.
Ignored, Timothy leaves. Owen hovers over his calendar
to turn back pages of appointments and court dates.
Scribbled on 5 June: "Dinner - Prater, 7 o'clock Steady!"
He falls into his chair, then begins his work.
INT. CULLINGS HOME - SALON - NIGHT
SUPER: "14 AUGUST, 1855"
Owen paces holding Meryton's letter. He looks tired but
his parents have endured the loss better.
You ought not leave at a time like
It's been six weeks since the
letter. There's been no response.
You should know. I arranged a pin
account and it hasn't been touched
since the end of May. That is why
I want to go. Exactly who attended
her burial 'lovingly'?
For God's sake--
I've received no word. It's
ludicrous to believe it was her at
all. It must have been a dreadful
mistake. London is overcrowded.
Prater tells me cholera is rampant.
Has she written? There's your
answer. You're an impudent child--
Who knows her best but her own
family? Who could have identified
her properly? Anyone can fall off
the walk and land unluckily under
a post carriage--
Mr. Cullings struggles to his feet and departs but loses
his way in the hall. Owen pleads with his mother:
Or look too far over a bridge and
go head first into the Thames, not
to be pulled out for weeks.
You've removed yourself from the
docket. What have you been doing?
Anna Liese has been called to God
for her goodness early.
If your God has any compassion
whatsoever, He would allow her to
to continue her good works here!
We're not as strong as we once
were... It's God's will, my son.
INT. SS BALTIC - STEAMER'S DINING HALL - NIGHT
Charismatic Owen Cullings struggles through his dinner at
the CAPTAIN'S table.
The first-class dining room sparkles with mirrors and
crystal, and overdressed diners.
SUPER: "19 SEPTEMBER, 1855"
Owen sees the mothers as vampish and the husbands too
full of drink; the young women and men practically glow.
MRS. DODE places her plump fingers upon Owen's hand.
Tell us about your work, Mr.
Cullings. How very exciting.
Yes, working for the confused
capitalized or failed to be
believed, and the wealthy auspicious
whose guilt is a matter of semantics
is indeed exciting.
Confused, Mrs. Dode titters and the other ladies follow.
Owen sees Anna Liese at the end of the table. She teases
him but after his plate is cleared she's gone. His POCKET
WATCH RINGS THREE SULLEN NOTES: 10 o'clock. Charming:
I must excuse myself from your
Owen bows and leaves the ladies atwitter. He attracts
the usual attention but hurries through the narrow paneled
corridors to arrive in near panic at his cabin.
INT. SS BALTIC - OWEN'S CABIN - CONTINUOUS ACTION
During Anna Liese's V.O., Owen pulls out her last letter
from a hidden compartment in his valise and sniffs it.
On his bunk he traces her name, then embraces it.
ANNA LIESE (V.O.)
15th of May, 1855. Dearest Owen,
It grows hot and humid as I search
for relief in the shade of the
splendid gardens at my disposal.
I have grown accustomed to new
routines as well as attuned myself
again to life. I am truly thankful
to have rediscovered beauty...
EXT. SS BALTIC - DECK - DAY
As Anna Liese's V.O. concludes, Owen stands among
passengers on the windy, cold deck of the steamer to watch
the castle ruins on Cape Clear.
Colorful boats travel the River Mersey as Owen enters the
customs house where his trunk and valise are searched.
He can't evade the mothers with their daughters.
ANNA LIESE (V.O.)
I fear your promise will be broken,
either by my own fortune or by
Mother's fixation to find you a
suitable wife. You must endure it
alone for your own benefit. There
is little I can offer but a reunion
after two years' time. I will
have much to tell. My love to
Mother and Father. Your Ever Loving
Sister, Anna Liese Cullings
On a foggy street, RATS SCURRY ON the COBBLES and CHEAP
LAUGHTER RINGS OUT. Owen, with valise, heads to an Inn.
INT. LIVERPOOL TRAIN STATION - EARLY NEXT MORNING
Owen gets comfortable in his Parliamentary train
compartment. It ROLLS OUT amid VOICES and WHISTLES.
INT. TRAIN - LATER
Owen pulls out his notes from the valise as the green
countryside flitters past nestling villages and farms.
The passengers in first class look comfortable. Second
class is less cozy. Passengers in third class's open car
battle smoke and seared shavings from the track.
INT. FENCHURCH STATION - LATE EVENING
Owen walks under the vaulted ceiling, his TRUNK PULLED by
a young Porter. He looks at every woman and follows a
familiar hat outside onto the CROWDED WALK: not Anna Liese.
The Porter hails a CARRIAGE on the crowded streets.
Draggon Inn, please.
EXT. DRAGGON INN - SHORT TIME LATER
On a muddy, packed road where streetlights are being lit,
Owen's carriage stops at an old building with a sign:
"Draggon Inn". Owen looks puzzled as he steps out with
his valise. The DRIVER struggles with his trunk.
Not far, is it? Sure you don't
want the George or Vulture Inn?
MR. SMITH, the Innkeeper, a tall, plain man younger than
he looks, unloads barrels from a dray cart. He taunts
the young men who help him.
Are ya 'ere ta'elp? You're young
Good Evening. I'm seeking lodgings
for a few weeks at most.
You would be. I'm Smith.
Is tha' all?
Owen nods so the Driver leaves it. Smith directs the
young men to help then goes inside. Owen follows.
INT. DRAGGON INN - CONTINUOUS ACTION
Mr. Smith steps behind the counter and starts anew. He
pushes the directory toward Owen with a quill. TAVERN
SOUNDS leak in through the arches.
Wha' brings you, Mr.... Cullings?
Owen Cullings, Esquire. Business
from America. I might have callers
and I will need a desk in my room.
Tha's fair. You'll find everything
'ere. Mrs. Smith will 'ave supper
Smith leads the way. Owen peeks inside the tavern-restaurant,
filled with mostly working class patrons.
As Mr. Smith talks, they climb a narrow stairwell and
manage a dark hall interrupted by doors. At the end it
juts right, to an open door and a wedge of light.
MR. SMITH (CONT'D)
Supper's round dark, dinner at
noon, breakfast at dawn. Mrs.
Smith don't like latecomers. No
overnight guests - we're not that
sort'a place. You can make your
toilet before supper. 'Ere's your
key. Are ya' expectin' any visitors
No, Mr. Smith, not tonight.
Your turnk'll be up presently.
Mr. Smith leads Owen into the plain, colorless room. The
only window, in the far corner, is open and has exterior
shutters and simple curtains the breeze flutters. Owen
closes his eyes as he inhales deeply and his curls waver.
Is there a garden beyond?
Mr. Smith shakes his head incredulously and leaves. From
his valise, Owen sets up his desk: an old Bradshaw Guide,
documents and paper, and portraits of Anna Liese. Then
he sits on his bed in the quiet stillness.
INT. DRAGGON INN - TAVERN - NEXT MORNING
A visible atmosphere hangs between yellowed walls. MRS.
SMITH - a young, shy, worn simile of Anna Liese - hides a
missing tooth and heads toward Owen with a pitcher.
You like the chaps?
He pushes aside his notes. Mouth full, he nods: Good.
What are they? Chaps?
Mrs. Smith moves on, but he watches her.
EXT. DRAGGON INN - STREET - LATER
Owen waits for a carriage in front of the Inn as Mr. Smith
tells a raucous story to the regulars. He walks instead.
EXT. GREATER LONDON - SERIES OF SHOTS - OVER SEVERAL DAYS
Owen arrives at Green Man to catch a congested Omnibus.
At Tottenham's crowded shopping district, he hires a cab
to take him down Oxford Street. Awnings, signs and facades
delineate the contiguous tall buildings.
Uniformed men can't keep the carriages and cabs in the
proper directions on the four lane street.
The Driver still cannot find the Oxford Street address
along the circle of manicured homes and gardens.
FLASHBACK - EXT. CULLINGS GARDEN - AUTUMN - EVENING
Anna Liese walks with Owen after a rain storm.
I want to visit England.
I can't leave now, I'm on four
Owen... I'm to be a private teacher
I would've expected Italy or Greece--
I can visit with family, as if I'm
like everyone else, and you can
marry, making Mother proud--
Who would I marry?!
Since when do you care about that?
It doesn't much matter what we do.
I'm a happy spinster, Owen, so
it's much too late for me. But
it's not too late for you...
EXT. OXFORD STREET - CONTINUOUS ACTION (BACK TO PRESENT)
Owen leaves the cab to approach neighbors and drab nannies
with prams and small children. No one can help him.
He walks through side streets to Berkeley Square and eats
among the elite at Gunter's Tea Shop. No one there
recognizes the address or Anna Liese's picture.
INT. DRAGGON INN - OWEN'S ROOM - THAT NIGHT
There's a signature rap at the door. Owen hesitates,
drowsy at his desk. Mrs. Smith is timid, with a tray:
stew with a hoc and buttered bread.
I brung you a bit o'stew.
It's very kind of you.
She leaves the tray on his desk but he pushes it aside to
work again. Deflated, she leaves.
EXT. ALIQUIS HOUSE - NEXT DAY
SUPER: "24 SEPTEMBER, 1855"
Owen's hansom pulls up, he pays the driver and enters.
INT. ALIQUIS HOUSE - MOMENTS LATER
Owen looks through his valise in a comfortable reception
area as a young clerk approaches.
I'm looking for Mr. Meryton. I've
come from America to meet him.
Meryton? From America, you say?
I have no appointment but it is
urgent I speak with him.
Owen presents his Cincinnati calling card and the Clerk
rushes off. MASON, bent with gray hair, soon appears.
Do I have the correct address?
Yes, I'm one of Meryton's partners,
Mason is the name. But Meryton
passed away in June, quite
When did he pass?
On the twenty-second of June.
(pulls from valise)
He wrote this on the twenty-first
of June. I've come from America
to find my sister, referenced here.
Perhaps his records can corroborate
her place of residence.
The name is not familiar. I'll
have you speak with his clerk.
Come with me.
INT. ALIQUIS HOUSE - MERYTON'S OFFICE - MOMENTS LATER
Mason paces the wall of books and briefs now in disarray.
Owen sits across from the empty desk. When MERYTON's
CLERK enters, Owen jumps to hand him the letter.
Do you recognize this?
It's Meryton's hand but I don't
recognize the name.
Meryton's Clerk looks to Mason for guidance.
How long have you been his clerk?
I'm afraid old Meryton had his
peculiarities and kept no records.
All in his head. Quite a genius.
You jest. No accounting records?
You're not the first and I'm truly
sorry for it. I shall make certain--
What about my letters to him?!
They were not answered.
We are attempting to sort out--
This is a damned outrage. I want
to see his appointment calendar.
I know how this works.
Mr. Cullings, we'll look into the
matter and we'll certainly inform
you the moment we've found anything.
The Clerk doesn't look hopeful but Mason gives the Clerk
the nod, who starts a half-hearted search. Mason moves
to the door but Owen has glares for them both.
There's no need to wait. Tell me
where you're lodging and I'll make
certain you receive details on...