Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Woman in Black (1989)

Produced for ITV and broadcast on Christmas Eve 1989 this version of Susan Hill's novel was adapted for the screen by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale.

The story tells of a junior solicitor, Arthur Kidd, and his journey to the town of Crythin Gifford in order to attend the funeral of local reclusive widow, Mrs. Drablow.  Once there he finds a village fearful of both her isolated home, Eel Marsh House, and of a mysterious black clad woman who Kidd keeps catching sight of.

Soon Kidd's duties necessitate his taking up residence in Eel Marsh where he discovers that the house's evil reputation is well deserved.

Director Herbert Wise has conjured a restrained and in many ways a somewhat old fashioned air of menace that he maintains throughout.  In this he is ably aided by both the script and some fine performances from his cast including Adrian Rawlins as Kidd (who would later play James (father of Harry) Potter), (Colditz Kommandant) Bernard Hepton as local bigwig Sam Toovey, Brit TV stalwart David Daker as pub landlord Josiah Freston and Pauline Moran (Poirot's Miss Lemon) as the titular Woman.

As I understand it this is, with some small changes, a mostly faithful adaptation of the novel and shows an admirable mastery of the form by Hill, Kneale and Wise who have produced a low key and deliciously eerie film that finds terror in disembodied sounds, the laughter of children, the superstition of villagers and the presence of an enigmatic figure.  It's a form of horror rarely seen these days outside of the BBCs Christmas ghost story adaptations of James' (and others) works and with it's Christmas Eve scheduling one can't help but think this was intended as a direct challenge to that series and a successful one at that.

I've not read the book or seen the more recent movie (starring Daniel Radcliffe) but I must admit I'm intrigued to do so in the case of the former, less so the latter, as what we have here is an adaptation that shows a story very much in the vein of M.R. James and the classic Victorian and Edwardian ghost story writers. 

(edit - since writing this I have indeed read the book.  My write up can be found here)

As a fan of both Kneale and of stories written and/or set in that era I have been long intrigued by this one and was very happy to discover that it was eminently watchable, downright spooky and a complete delight. 


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