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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Daniel Radcliffe
Ciaran Hinds
Janet McTeer
Roger Allam.
Directors
James Watkins.
Screenwriters
Jane Goldman.
Running Time
TBC minutes

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The Woman In Black
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Plot
Young solicitor Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is sent to clear up the affairs of a recently deceased woman who lived in a remote house. When he arrives he finds that the house holds something even more frightening than paperwork.


Review
The Woman In Black
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Though it was published in 1983, The Woman In Black has come to be regarded almost as a classic of Victorian ghost story-telling. While it’s obviously not of that era — the ’80s only really tallying with Victorian times in that people expended rather too much effort getting dressed and the poor had a pretty awful time — Susan Hill’s short novel is very much of the style and mood of tales like The Turn Of The Screw or Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad. It’s a little bit stately and completely terrifying through use of language and very simple suggestion, rather than anything gory. The story of a solicitor being traumatised by death and secrets in a remote village has the core ingredients of vengeful ghost, big creaky building, sceptical protagonist and unremittingly miserable weather. The book has sold in enormous numbers; been adapted into a stage play which has been running in the West End for approximately 4,762 years (okay, 23); been the basis of multiple radio plays and, in 1989, was adapted for a successful TV special (viewable on YouTube, if you’re prepared to squint for 100 minutes). It is, in short, a story much told. This latest is a match for any previous telling.

James Watkins’ Woman In Black is not a particularly faithful interpretation of the book, at least not in terms of the order of events. It has rearranged and omitted all over the place, though the major elements remain: the fog with an apparent mind of its own, the dog, the most upsetting rocking chair in the history of literature. But absolute fealty to its source isn’t especially vital as long as it works on its own terms and stays true to at least the spirit of the original story. This it very much does.

Scripted by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), who brings a great deal of her own invention to Hill’s story, the film begins with one significant change. Where the novel’s Arthur Kipps is happily married, full of enthusiasm and optimism, keen to be a father, the film’s Kipps is a widower. His wife died giving birth to their son, whom Kipps adores but evidently doesn’t particularly enjoy (the child draws his father with a big, frowny face), and he is troubled by visions of her. That changes Kipps’ path substantially. In the book he is a contented man sent on an apparently menial task and gradually brought down by the terrifying things he witnesses in a haunted house. Here, he’s a hollow man trying to achieve some kind of contentment by battling internal and external ghosts. It’s bold, but it works. The utter lack of happiness in any of the characters adds to the bleakness of the story and, cinematically at least, without the benefit of narration, a character seeking something is perhaps more compelling than a character who has everything to lose.

The actions of The Woman In Black, the ghost of Eel Marsh House, have also been somewhat altered. Goldman and Watkins’ take on the village of Crythin Gifford is rather like Summerisle in The Wicker Man, with a small, isolated community of permanently edgy folk who hold a secret — a secret they keep very poorly by staring accusingly at the stranger in their midst and dropping heavy, yet still oblique, hints about not going up to the big dark house where big dark things happen. It’s no spoiler to say that The Woman In Black has a curious, violent hold over the people of the village, but the way in which that manifests itself has been ramped up in the movie. This Woman In Black is more determinedly evil, a more ambitious class of deathly spirit.

Daniel Radcliffe seems initially too young to be playing a solicitor with a four year-old son, even if he is permanently stubbled for extra manliness, but it’s solid casting. He’s considerably more youthful than any of the adults in Crythin Gifford, which adds to his outsider status and enhances the fact that others know so much more than him. Anyway, it’s set in Victorian times and everyone was younger then. All the old people were dead. Radcliffe plays a challenging role well, frequently with nothing to react against as he tiptoes around Eel Marsh House waiting for something horrible to happen. He’s got good eyes for looking terrified: huge and always a little bit aghast, even in repose. Elsewhere in the cast, Ciarán Hinds is strong as Sam Daily, a landowner who utterly eschews the ghostly myth until it becomes impossible to do so, while Janet McTeer, in a largely invented role as his wife, who has reacted to the death of her child by treating a pair of dogs like tiny quadrupedal people, almost beats the ghost for absolute creepiness.

The most vital aspect of any depiction of The Woman In Black is that it be consistently unsettling. This is part horror film, but more ghost story. It’s not enough to make the audience jump; they have to feel their flesh crawl almost constantly. Watkins has measured it just right. Eden Lake showed that he could well handle the threat of violence; this shows he can also handle threat that can’t be defined. Every scene has a suggestion that something is lurking, watching, waiting for the right time to reveal itself. For all the time Kipps is in the sprawling house (brilliantly, ominously lit for maximum heebie-jeebies) you’re given no opportunity to relax. Some of the growing tension is paid off with a cathartic shock, but it’s even more unsettling when the shock never comes. The anxiety builds and builds until you can hardly bear it as Kipps edges further into the shadows. You will likely spend a great deal of the running time cowered so far into your seat that you’re virtually horizontal. Actual glimpses of the ghost are used sparingly, a split-second of her appearing in a distant doorway or peeking through a zoetrope being far more unsettling than getting a proper chance to look at her in all her rotting haggardness. If anything, she could have been shown less. The few times when The Woman In Black is on screen for more than a couple of seconds dilute the horror. A screen monster is always scarier when you can’t fully describe it.

If there’s a misstep, it’s in the new ending. Without wanting to give away anything at all, it has been decided that there should be some attempt at redemption, for everyone. It dissipates a good deal of the fear that has been built up to this stage, and though still reasonably satisfying, is not needed. It certainly hasn’t improved on the ending of the novel, which doesn’t seek any resolutions and is all the more despairing for it. Hill’s was an ending that haunts you long after, whereas this wraps up quite neatly. A shame as it puts a quite mundane cap on a film that has up until now not fallen back on the obvious or familiar. That said, you’ll almost certainly still leave the cinema in need of a very stiff drink and a lie-down in a brightened room.


Verdict
Check behind the doors. Switch on all the lights. You won’t be sleeping soundly for a while.


Reviewed by Olly Richards

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Woman In Black
Empire Star Rating

Should not be 12A

Read my whole review on http://straighttelling.co.uk ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TroyPutland at 11:38, 14 August 2014 | Report This Post


A travesty of the book

The "Woman in Black" book was a superb read with the ghostliness and menace subtly muted, and all the more spine-chilling for it. The film murdered the plot and altered the story almost beyond recognition, particularly the clumsy tampering with Susan Hill's uncompromising unhappy ending. The film's supposedly terrifying scenes in Eel House were laughable, reminiscent of the crass frighteners of a fairground ghost train. The addition of the ludicrous scene of the recovery of the chil... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by David.hollingdale at 09:31, 15 January 2014 | Report This Post


A travesty of the book

The "Woman in Black" book was a superb read with the ghostliness and menace subtly muted, and all the more spine-chilling for it. The film murdered the plot and altered the story almost beyond recognition, particularly the clumsy tampering with Susan Hill's uncompromising unhappy ending. The film's supposedly terrifying scenes in Eel House were laughable, reminiscent of the crass frighteners of a fairground ghost train. The addition of the ludicrous scene of the recovery of the chil... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by David.hollingdale at 09:30, 15 January 2014 | Report This Post


"I believe the most rational mind can play tricks in the dark."

A delightfully creepy ghost story, The Woman In Black calls to mind the great gothic horrors of Roger Corman and Vincent Price... and like those, this is frightening with a touch of class. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 01:31, 24 October 2013 | Report This Post


Woman in Black

Vastly overrated offering chills and scares familiar to any Horror fan, as a first time Horror experience its fine but the film wastes a stunning visual look on material that feels not up to potential. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JJB888 at 23:36, 30 March 2013 | Report This Post


A Waste

I don't really know what I was expecting from this film. I suppose I was expecting something at least passable. In terms of the script, the central performance, the frights.....anything. What I got instead was a squandered opportunity. The script is a work of extreme mediocrity. Daniel Radcliffe is still playing Harry Potter (And more to the point, will always be playing Harry Potter until he refines his acting), and the frights are laughably poor. Not once during the film was I gripped, surpris... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 16:40, 24 June 2012 | Report This Post


The Woman In Black-Review

in 1983 Susan Hill published the short novel of Woman In Black i have to admit i had never heard of this publication untill the movie was released but now i have read the novel and i can safely say (even though a lot of people say books are better than films) that this film has lived up to the books expectectations and has argueably surpassed them. As soon as i heard news of the film i instantly wanted to see it Daniel Radcliffes perfomances in the past seven Harry Potters have been spectacul... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ConnorHarriott99 at 18:52, 19 June 2012 | Report This Post


Scary and very good

The best movie about ghosts I've seen since The Orphanage. Genuinely creepy and jumpy moments. I can't remember the last time I was actually scared by a movie, but this one did the trick. Very good film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Coyleone at 21:34, 29 March 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Scares Harry Potter fans

I wasn't going to watch this but I was drawn in by the hype of it, especially the criticism of the BBFC for granting it 12A certificate when many had claimed it to be "quite terrifying." Now, granted, it has it's moments, as cliched as they are, but the suprisingly pleasant thing about the film for me was Daniel Radcliffe's assured performance as Arthur Kips. The jumps are there but predictable, the ending is rather hazy, are they in heaven? Is she "returning the favour" so to speak? And what i... More

Posted by Goodfella at 01:57, 21 March 2012 | Report This Post


Scares Harry Potter fans

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH UNREAL ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ciaran McDaid at 12:35, 20 March 2012 | Report This Post


Seen tonight: tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596365/]The Woman In Blackn forehand the biggest problem of this picture seems to be the question if Daniel Radcliffe can ditch his Harry Potter "aura" and give a credible performance in wich you don`t always to seem think you`re watching Harry Potter. In this he succeeds exceptionally well. He gives a great, believable part and soon you`re not thinking about Potter. The film is all about the atmosphere. A grey, dark atmosphere that thank... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 23:28, 13 March 2012 | Report This Post


Good, scary horror with pretty shocking final. Even lot of cliche doesn't ruined movie cause climax and tensios keeps mz attentions. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ARmy2510 at 19:35, 13 March 2012 | Report This Post


The Woman in Black Review

This was by far the best horror film I have seen in a long while, mainly due to the decision not to make it a hand-held documentary. The director uses diegetic and non-diegetic sounds to create suspense, which again takes the film away from the silent "jump" scenes over-used in modern horrors. I hope that more producers watch this film and realise horror films don't all have to be exactly like Paranormal Activity (Dir. Oren Peli, 2007) to terrify audiences. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DaleLawson at 14:29, 11 March 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

About as scary as Rentaghost. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by rubadub at 17:25, 29 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Ending

L: Vadersville SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING! I don't think The Woman in Black did it as a sort of reward. I genuinelly think that she was just trying to take Arthur's son away from him or even kill him as well. She was heard chanting never forgive just before. But rather than be lost forever like the others shes killed Arthur and his son were rescued by his wife, (a Woman in White) who led them to cross over. o be perfectly honest, I'm not sure it's wort... More

Posted by Super Hans at 13:27, 29 February 2012 | Report This Post


The Woman in Black

Based on the novel by Susan Hill and after taking many other forms of adaptations, from theatre to radio, The Woman in Black returns to the big screen. Child star, Daniel Radcliffe, steps out of the Harry Potter shoes and into those of Arthur Kipps. Kipps is a young solicitor who is sent to a remote part of the midlands to settle the affairs of a recently deceased widow. He ends up being caught up in the curse of a ghost known as ‘The Woman in Black.’ The story takes a very clich... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Astrid Hall at 16:06, 28 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

Thw Woman in Black had so many cliches it was painful - yet somehow, despite the constant expectation, I just didn't see any of them coming. I thought it was utterly fantastic, and many bricks were shat. It was full of BOO moments, but they just worked. I had pretty low expectations of this, thinking I'd be sitting through standard haunted-house fare, and to be honest had it not been for Radcliffe I probably would have given in it a miss; I was definitely just curious to see how he w... More

Posted by Drone at 23:15, 22 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

Apparently cuts were made in order to secure the 12A certificate, which for a director like James Watkins (who directed such uncompromising fare like keote terror-fuelled pieces like centlittle bit disappointing - although given the involvement of Radcliffe, is hardly a surprise. As a result, it leads to a ghost story that will absolutely work for young teenagers in terms of chills, yet those better versed in haunted house fare will admire it rather than being genuinely spooked - a wee bit of a... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 14:23, 22 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

For me, Susan Hill's The Woman in Black remains the finest ghost story of recent times. It has fueled my imagination – not to mention, my writing – for three decades now and exemplifies how the ghost story genre is arguably the most effective form for exploring the human condition in all its manifestations and complexity. Like the highly celebrated works of MR James, Hill’s work evokes similar unease in the reader with a narrative full of barely-glimpsed horrors in often isolated locations. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by funkadelia9999 at 11:03, 22 February 2012 | Report This Post


And They all Died Happily Ever After.......

Well, having gone to the Cinema to see a " Hammer Horror " Film for the first time in MANY Years, I suppose I had expected just what to expect, and I think I got just about all the classic scenes, and predictable events, with jumpy sound effects, and a couple of scary scenes, with LOUD screams, and shadowy figures creeping about in the background. Overall, its a typical " Hammer Horror " ........... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by n13roy at 17:57, 21 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: EFFICIENTLY PUT TOGETHER FRIGHTFEST.....

I really enjoyed the film, really loved the atmosphere and tension which it was capable of. However there were a few too many jump scares for my taste, and most of the good ones were in the trailers. Only just seen it though, so I think I need to ponder on the film more. ... More

Posted by MovieJunkie at 19:35, 20 February 2012 | Report This Post


EFFICIENTLY PUT TOGETHER FRIGHTFEST.....

This sort of thing is old news to anyone who's seen Deborah Kerr in The Innocents - and John Carpenter has been using the jump scare technique for years in his old films. But still, it's worth seeing for the mood and atmosphere which is cleverly built up as the story progresses. And beware - there ain't much levity in amongst all the doom and gloom and Radcliffe still looks like he's 18 with bumfluff on his face but thankfully has just enough screen presence to carry the whole thing off. Bloodle... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 19:18, 20 February 2012 | Report This Post


The Woman in Black.

Being a fan of the book and really enjoying the creepy, drawn out suspense of the tv film (i personally found the stage play overacted) i was all set to pick holes in this one but i was pleasantly surprised. The film looks great all the way through and even with the changes to the book as mentioned in Olly's review, even those of us familiar with the story get some surprises. For me this is Hammer Films doing what they do best - great British, atmospheric creepouts - not sucky films for the US... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hands Randall at 19:13, 20 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

I'd deliberately not read any reviews on this film as wanted to go in without any expectations. I'd not known anything of the story either so went in cold so to speak. I really enjoyed it. Thought it had plenty of jumps (which were shared by others) and held a great creepy atmosphere all the time especially in the house. Yes there were some moments when I knew something would happen as it was cliche but then again, it didn't disappoint. As for Radcliffe, I thought he played his chara... More

Posted by Twisted Kitty at 13:25, 20 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

double post ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 10:24, 18 February 2012 | Report This Post


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