I go way back with The Woman in Black. First, knowing that it was adapted from Susan Hill‘s classic spine-tingler, I watched the really rather brilliant 1988 Nigel Kneale-written TV-movie adaptation of the same, then saw the stage play (amazing), then read the book (everything I expected) and now, with much trepidation before so doing, I have watched the Daniel Radcliffe-starring, James Watkins-directed film. And…
…I by and large only have very good things to report. As all aficionados of the work of M.R. James will know, the very best ghosts are not those who flit around in white sheets going ‘woo-wooh’, but rather those who are malevolent, and have very specific, deadly agendas against the living.
After all, why should they not? They’re dead, aren’t they, and that must be a real downer, and if the living have made them thus, what are they going to do? What would you do?
So we join young Arthur Kipps, a late 19th-century lawyer who is also a widower – his wife died in childbirth, delivering their son whom Kipps adores, but who is having trouble keeping, given that he is on his final warning at his law firm. His boss tells him that a trip to the remote town of Crythin Gifford, to sort out the affairs of the recently deceased Alice
Drablow, owner of Eel Marsh House, may be his last chance to save his position and so Kipps, having no choice, travels to the town, and into a nightmare.
And that’s it for spoilers, as this is very much a tale I would like you to discover on your own. Suffice only to say that the titular black-dressed femme fatale (and believe me, she is all that) has a very specific grudge against the little ones of Crythin Grifford, and Kipps is running a very serious risk of falling into her web.
As I said earlier, deadly ghosts are by far the best, and Jane Goldman’s screenplay, which like her predecessors’ attempts adapts and improves on the premise of Hill’s original novel, brings out the very best in Watkins’ talented cast. There was perhaps a wish on the part of this reviewer for a few more screams (as the 1988 version delivered unbelievably well, including one shock-cut that is perhaps the scariest in all cinema, I kid you not), but this is nevertheless the most subtle, intelligent chill-fest you will see in some time. Brrrrr.