The Saddling

The Saddling ©

Registered withe the Writer’s Guild of America Reg Number : 1521871  (Details below)

Mid-budget mystery taking family history and ancestry investigation as its starting point and looking at the power of organised religion.

The Saddling – Treatment

James Collins


WGA registration: 1521871

Logline: A young genealogist uncovers human sacrifice while struggling to solve a family mystery in the village of his ancestors.


Key characters:


Tom Carey, (MC/Protagonist) slightly overweight, early 20’s, obsessed with his family tree to the point of losing his girlfriend. Reliant on facts, technology, computers and one of the new ‘Facebook generation,’ not adept at face to face socialisation. From London.


William Blacklocks, (Antagonist) the village elder of Saddling, 60’s. Tall, gaunt, powerful and manipulative.


Dan Vye, (Impact character) 18, smooth faced, ethereal young man, son of the pub landlady in the village of Saddling. Distant, a dreamer, has been brought up knowing that he may die before he is 20.


Barry Cole, (Sidekick) 19, another village boy brought up under the shadow of possible death. He’s down to hearth, humorous, desperate for a different life.


Brief synopsis:

Act one: To inherit his dying aunt’s money, Tom Carey must unlock an old family mystery in the remote village of Saddling, in the Romney Marsh. There he is unwelcome and treated with suspicion, but this only drives him harder and he is determined not to be put off his task by the backward, superstitious villagers who are hiding something.


Act two: The village elder, the much feared William Blacklocks, guards the parish registers that Tom needs to see, and stands between Tom and the clues to his mystery. While trying to get to these books, Tom befriends two of the village boys, Dan and Barry, both of whom are living under some kind of threat. Tom learns of the annual winter solstice ritual of ‘The Saddling’ which has been held in the village for hundreds of years. This solstice day Dan is chosen as the Saddling Prince. Tom struggles but acquires the books and in them discovers that the solstice ritual involves a human sacrifice. Not only that but it was his ancestors who originated the ritual. And Dan is chosen to be the next victim.


Act three: Tom is inclined to run as a storm starts and floodwaters rise, threatening the village. Dan is prepared for sacrifice, anyone Tom turns to for help has been killed, and only he can save Dan. He is tricked into becoming the sacrifice, but manages to escape. He inherits his money and opts to stay in Saddling where his ancestors originated.




Prologue: In 1292 the south coast of England is ravaged by a storm. Floodwaters take whole villages. In the small village of Saddling the cleric, Roberte Di Kari, accidentally kills a teenage boy, John Blacklocks, and immediately the storm abates; the village is saved.


Act one: In the present day Dan Cary, an out of work, scruffy, 20-something, ignores a TV news headline about two Iranian teens being stoned to death for being gay, and works on his family tree. He is obsessed to the point that he has lost his job, and now his girlfriend. Tom needs to know who he is, he’s lost and doesn’t know what direction his life is taking him. He relies on Facebook for social interaction, and his PC for everything else.


Tom’s aunt Maud has charged Tom with solving an old family mystery: why did their ancestors leave Saddling, a village in Romney Marsh, one hundred years ago? She will leave her fortune to Tom if he solves the mystery before she dies. She does not have long to live. Tom’s hacker friend Dylan helps him discover that the Saddling parish books are still kept in the village. Tom must go and see them.


On Romney Marsh, a youth, Dan Vye, cuts a lonely figure against the broad, flat landscape He sees crows wheeling and runs, terrified of them.


Somewhere on the marsh, Tom finally reaches the boundary ditch that circles the village. He is reluctant to cross the small bridge at first as he has a fear of drowning. He is being watched by a tall man with piercing eyes, William Blacklocks.


In the pub, ‘The Crow and Whiteback’, Susan Vye the landlady is reluctant to give Tom a room. A teenager, Barry, tells her she must and she agrees immediately. Tom is given a basic, sparse room looking out towards the village green, church and circle of houses.


Village women hang winter flowers in wreaths on their doors. Four houses have candles burning in their windows, the rest have drawn curtains.


Tom is finding the pub quaint if a little backward, there are no sockets for his chargers. The villagers are wary of him being there ‘at this time of year.’ Tom tries to engage them in talk of his ancestors who were from Saddling, but no one is keen to be drawn in.


In the church crypt, Blacklocks is using Matt Cole to spy on Tom. Tom is after the village register book, and Blacklocks will use that to keep him here until after ‘The Saddling.’


Upstairs at the pub, Tom hears someone crying in the room next to his.


The next day, Tom starts to look around the village and finds the church locked. As the low winter sun creeps up, he meets Dan. Tom remarks on how beautiful the marsh is but Dan tells him it is deadly. He also suggests he visit Eliza if he wants answers.


In the crypt, Blacklocks is now working through the old books. He notes that in 1912 a Thomas Carey was ‘chosen’ but left, ‘unfulfilled.’


Tom pays a call on a blind woman, Eliza, who lives outside of the village. She is expecting him. She asks him what he is really searching for, it is something more than his ancestors. She says he must have faith without proof sometimes, not everything is to be found in books. She doesn’t answer his questions but gives him a small pouch of flour and tells him to look to his name.


Tom arrives at the bridge to find his bags unceremoniously ejected from the village and his laptop smashed.


Dan and Barry are in the churchyard watching the crows. They swear to look out for each other if they are ‘chosen’ and agree that things have to be changed.


Tom returns to the village furious and considers abandoning his search. Downstairs, Blacklocks is angry with Susan for going easy on Tom. ‘The harder we make it, the more he will want to stay.’


As Tom is leaving he encounters Blacklocks who tells him that he has located the books Tom wants. Tom’s obsession overrides his thoughts on leaving. He decides to stay.


Act two A: Back in London: Dylan gets a call from Tom’s aunt. Her time is running out, Tom must hurry. Dylan tries to contact Tom, but can’t. But he notices some patterns in the dates in Tom’s research.


William Blacklocks’ grandson, Mark, a teenager, is angry that Tom is not showing the correct respect to him during ‘Penit.’ Tom is confused, Barry wants to help him but can’t. William Blacklocks discusses village superstition with Tom, tells him of their festival to be held tomorrow, invites Tom to stay for it. It only happens once every ten tears. They discuss how both their ancestry stretches back a long way in Saddling. But Tom then learns that the village books are not here after all. The village is liable to flood at this time of year so they have been sent away for safety. Tom is suspicious.


In the graveyard, Matt Cole scatters sheep pellets to attract the animals to graze. Tom notices there are many graves for teenage boys. Matt tells him he shouldn’t be here at this time, ‘not with a name like yours.’


Matt tells Blacklocks that he is concerned that they are ‘playing with the ritual.’


Tom has to return ‘to the stone age’ when his palm pilot dies and he has to use pencil and paper for his notes. Villagers are giving Tom a wide berth. But Dan befriends Tom and explains more about the village and their antiquated way of life. It is what he is used to, it works for the village. This is how it is and even the teenagers accept it.


But Matt Cole is very worried about something and is preparing to run away with his wife and son, Barry.


Tom uses Eliza’s flour to bring out writing on tombstones. He finds some of his ancestors’ dates and names and starts making notes.


On the eve of ‘The Saddling’ the men gather in the pub, they discuss how the festival must go ahead ‘for the sake of everyone’ even though some grow more against it each time.


Susan tells Tom to leave her boy, Dan, alone. She has seen them talking, she doesn’t want Tom’s ‘out-marsh’ ways to influence Dan.


Downstairs in the pub, Matt tells Tom that the books he wants are in the church crypt after all. He also warns Tom off his search, saying Blacklocks blinded Eliza for delving in the past. But this is just conjecture and Tom only deals in facts. Barry tries to tell Tom to go home but when Tom refuses, Barry admires him even more.


At dusk, Tom meets Dan out on the marsh. Dan has never left the marsh, he doesn’t know what it’s like beyond the boundary. Tom feels crushed by this, feels sorry for the boy.


At night, Mark Blacklocks scatters sheep pellets outside his house. Inside the Cole’s house the village women gather to sing laments, crying, while four mothers hold hands around candles. Tom works through his research in his room as thunder starts to roll in.


But the next morning dawns bright and cheery, though the skies are threatening. The village prepares for ‘The Saddling.’ The village green plays host to music, dancing, stalls and a gathering of all villagers. Tom watches and finds it quaint. He takes a risk and steals into the church, finds the crypt. He is looking for the books when Blacklocks nearly discovers him, but a scream from outside draws him away.


The village green is mayhem: sheep run everywhere, villagers yell and laugh, call them over. It’s a good thing for sheep to graze on your lawn; they graze at the Blacklocks house, and the Coles, and the other house with the candle burning, but there are none at the pub, and the pub has crows on the roof. Susan is distraught. The crows and ‘whitebacks’ have chosen Dan for ‘The Saddling.’ Dan is stunned, Eliza is there, shocked, and Barry silently begs Tom to help.


Act Two B: Dylan arrives in New Romney, and finds the vicar at the church. The vicar refuses to give him directions to Saddling, he begs Dylan not to go onto the marsh today.


The festival on the green is over and the rest of the day is spent in reflection as the village prepares for a church service in the evening. Tom wants to know what’s just happened but Blacklocks only says that the village is happy. Dan has been chosen, it is an honour.


The men are celebrating in the pub where Susan is still distraught. Upstairs, Tom looks at Dan’s diary and sees no notes or appointments planned beyond this day.


Out at the bridge, Blacklocks paces, waiting, he sees a car approach, he smiles.


As the weather closes in, Tom tries to talk with Dan, but Dan is lost, confused, he can’t take it in. He argues with Tom, a clash of the Saddling traditions verses the modern world ‘out there.’ Tom slips into a ditch, his worst nightmare. He scrambles out but Dan has run off. Tom goes to see Eliza for some answers.


In her shack, Eliza is expecting someone when the door opens.


Tom gingerly runs across the Saddling bridge, it creaks and the water level is higher.


In his stationary car, Dylan looks through Dan’s research on a laptop, and in his family bible. He realises something shocking. He drives off through the gathering storm, the radio gives out a flood warning.


Tom finds Liza’s shack empty, the place is a mess. He heads back to the village. The planked bridge is being washed away and he has to jump half of it to get across.


Dylan drives past Tom’s car, parked up in a layby. No sign of him there.


Tom tries to find more clues from headstones in the graveyard; he is on to something. He goes to the Blacklocks house but is told that William is not there.


Barry and his father have slipped away from the festivities at the pub. Tom meets Barry and tells him it is now imperative that Tom sees the books in the locked church. Barry knows a way they can get inside.


William Blacklocks was at home, he is talking to a young, suited man, Philip, and someone we can’t see, about how he has ways to take care of Barry.


Out on the marsh a ditch wall bursts and the ditches start to flood.


Barry and Tom creep through the back of the pub and into the cellar.


Dylan is at the bridge, soaked, exhausted and half the bridge has been washed away. He jumps for it but the bridge collapses under him. He is in the water when the planks of the bridge hit him and Eliza’s body floats past, dragging him away and under the water.


Barry and Tom head into the old smugglers’ tunnel that runs from the pub to the crypt. There is water under their feet. They reach the crypt and find the books. But when they come back to the tunnel the water has risen higher. This really is Tom’s worst nightmare. They fight through the rising water until it is up to their chins and they are about to be swallowed, but they reach the pub cellar and Tom climbs out. But Barry is not with him. Tom has no choice but to dive back in and save Barry. Barry is saved, can’t believe Tom did that, and Tom tells him that a man must do what he knows is right, for his friends.


Later that evening, at Barry’s house, Tom is dried and dressed in clothes borrowed from Matt Cole. He looks like a Saddling villager now. While he is dressing, Barry is looking at the books for him and finds a journal note about how most of the Carey family fled in 1912. Barry assumes from the storms. Dan arrives to give Barry a parting gift.


Tom is back in his room with the books, devouring their information when he sees the villagers heading for the church. He discovers a pattern of dates in the book and realises that a village teenage boy dies every ten years on the same date; winter solstice. Tonight. Dan appears and says goodbye to him, but Tom is so obsessed with this new research that he doesn’t hear Dan’s words: ‘The thing that The Saddling teaches us is that it’s wrong to love. You can’t. The one you love might be chosen.’ Tom finally realises the horrible truth that it was his ancestor Di Kari that started this ritual and that since then a human sacrifice has been made every 10 years to keep the flooding at bay. And in 1912 his ancestors fled the village to avoid being victims; they were cowards. And worse than that, Dan is to be this night’s sacrifice. But Dan has left and Tom has been locked in.


Act three: Dan is outside the church with the villagers who chant, ‘For Saddling.’ Tom can see this from his room but he can’t do anything about it. He is stuck and all he has are his notes and research, papers, books all useless now. But Susan lets him out, tells him to run for it, go get out of the village. Tom, dazed and panicked, does as he is told.


In the church Blacklocks begins the ceremony. he realises that the Cole family are missing and sends some of his henchmen out to look.


Tom thinks off all those dead boys as he staggers away into the storm, he can’t believe it is all his ancestors’ fault. He is the last one, he is the only one to blame for this. He stumbles into Barry and his family escaping, and Matt Cole tells Tom what Blacklocks wants: he wants Tom to go willingly in Dan’s place, as the sacrifice, then the tradition can be ended. The debt would be paid; the last Carey in return for the original John Blacklocks. Someone must put an end to this ritual, and Tom is the only one who can. Will he give up his life for all those future victims?


Dan is on the altar, a girl sings the final lament. Tom races to the church. It’s locked. He must use the flooded tunnel. He runs through the graveyard and falls into a fresh, open grave.


Tom escapes the grave and runs to the pub, then through the tunnel and into the crypt. He bursts in on the ceremony’s climax. In a showdown with Blacklocks, Tom’s beliefs are called into question; what’s worse, following a religion like that of Saddling or the religion of the internet, being a slave to computers, phones, technology? It’s facts verses faith time and Tom knows that killing Dan will not stop the storm. But how can he be sure? It’s worked for hundreds of years.


The Cole’s are dragged back, the flood has started and the waters are rising outside.


His aunt Maud unexpectedly appears with Philip, her lawyer. She and Blacklocks together laid this trap so that Tom would go to the altar and the ritual would be stopped for good. Tom must do what is right by his family, and friends. Tom has to decide if he will die to save Dan and stop the slaughter of innocent boys. He has a chance to change Saddling, but it means having faith that his death will make a difference.


Tom gives himself up but, on the point of being killed, he gets free. His friendship with Barry and Dan works in his favour as hey help Tom fight the villagers who are trying to kill Tom. In the struggle, Dan accidentally kills Mark, the last generation of Blacklocks and the raging storm abates immediately. Mark tried to cheat ‘The Saddling’ but was sacrificed anyway.


William Blacklocks is last seen carrying his dead grandson out into the marsh, disappearing into the mist. Because Tom was willing to give up his life for family honour, his aunt agrees to leave him her money.


The following spring, the village is transforming, they are getting a phone line, and electricity. And Tom has decided to stay in Saddling. But has he stopped the flood? They won’t know for another ten years.




Registered Item Information:

Material Type :     SCREENPLAY
Intended Medium :     SCREEN
Item Title :     The Saddling
Filename :     The Saddling James Collins.pdf
Submission Date :     7/21/2011 11:27:47 PM

Registrant/Author Information:
Registrant ID :     COLLI603263T
Registrant Last Name :     Collins
Registrant First Name :     James

More information available on request. Email:

The Saddling © James Collins 2011