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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

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


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


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


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


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


RE: The Woman In Black

Now I was surprised heard this has very traditional, slow-paced ghost story has become a huge hit and indeed I could barely get a seat at my cinema, but then of course it does have a certain Harry Potter in the lead role! Actually Daniel Radcliffe is okay, considering at least a third of the film consists of him on his own, in a haunted house. These lengthy sequences are superb examples of creepy atmosphere building and contains some solid jolts, though I could have done without the obvious CG... More

Empire User Rating

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


RE: The Woman In Black

L: theinquisitor Radcliffe is a decent actor and would have been a good choice if the character had been closer to the Kipps of the book, but this version has to be 25+. Radcliffe was 21 during filming and barely looks that. I can only imagine there were commercial rather than artistic considerations in his casting, but it was a serious problem for me in a film I otherwise enjoyed. sp; I wrote this in my own review >   "On the acting front the film rests solely on the shoul... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnChard at 19:20, 16 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. sp; Yep that works for me also, it has a cou... More

Posted by JohnChard at 19:15, 16 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Woman In Black

Radcliffe is a decent actor and would have been a good choice if the character had been closer to the Kipps of the book, but this version has to be 25+. Radcliffe was 21 during filming and barely looks that. I can only imagine there were commercial rather than artistic considerations in his casting, but it was a serious problem for me in a film I otherwise enjoyed. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by theinquisitor at 16:20, 16 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Ending

*** ENDING SPOILER BELOW *** My blood chilled when his boy said "who's that woman", not knowing who they were looking at. Heaven or Hell depending on who that woman was, mind you would never have been hell, way too big a downer then. ... More

Posted by piginapoke at 13:26, 16 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Ending

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. ... More

Posted by Vadersville at 13:06, 16 February 2012 | Report This Post


The Ending

Well it's two fold in meaning and personally I don't mind it either way. *SPOILERS BELOW* She's either given Arthur his peace by puting them back together as a family, a thanks for doing what he did to find her son, or she's just one nasty killing beatch who is going to keep on killing!  The directors commentary will be interesting for it.   Anyway, a wonderful spooker, in the vein of The Orphanage, The Others, The Changeling, and even th... More

Posted by JohnChard at 02:00, 16 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Decent Chiller!!

I love Jane Goldman's writing (usually) but I found Woman in Black to be quite dull, very little dialogue, lots of walking around a house, 12A scares. I jumped once when Radcliff put his hand on the glass and the woman appeared. The ending was clever but the story was fairly weak. Worth a watch, once. The opposite of you Ramone87 d the ending, the rest was meh. ... More

Posted by S. C. Lee at 00:15, 16 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Certification.

I saw this the other night and quite enjoyed it really. One or two decent scares, although not as many as I would've liked and I thought Radcliffe did quite well even if I didn't quite buy him as a father. Some good atmospherics reminiscent of The Haunting and The Others let down by a (Stly schlocky finale with too much use of the title character doing the whole screaming at the camera stuff we'd seen all before. Overall its faults can be forgiven as the first two acts are well done. b] ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Spaldron at 16:06, 15 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Certification.

This all comes down to Spider-Man there was no 12A before that came out & it was thought too strong for a PG & Sony didn't want a 12 cert so low & behold a 12A strangely appeared? whereas if we had PG/13 like the US where we'd have seen the film uncut we're left with this though surprisingly Dark Knight wasn't cut & that was far more disturbing torture scenes etc makes you wonder? ... More

Posted by Wild about Wilder at 13:06, 15 February 2012 | Report This Post


Certification.

I saw it last Friday in Dublin and there it was a 15A certificate, which I think is spot on. Why it's a 12 here I have no idea? I thought it was a wonderful old fashioned spooker with period flavours and a damn fine performance from Radcliffe. Looks like I'm going to see it again on Friday in the UK as my Mom is a fan of the book, really looking forward to it again, just hope that the 12 certificate doesn't mean the jolts have been toned down...... ... More

Posted by JohnChard at 03:12, 15 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Scary? Don't be a pussy!

L: horribleives L: Timon L: Bighousewill I don't believe in ghosts this film had no effect on me I manned up big time for this film I can sleep in a darkened room no prob. omeone's going overboard on letting us know how unscared he was. nd then buggers it up royally by saying the last time he was frightened was at Darth Maul's little brother in Insidious, a film about as scary as Scooby Doo. got scared and jumped a lot in both. Both great films! ... More

Posted by st3veebee at 11:22, 14 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Scary? Don't be a pussy!

L: horribleives L: Timon L: Bighousewill I don't believe in ghosts this film had no effect on me I manned up big time for this film I can sleep in a darkened room no prob. omeone's going overboard on letting us know how unscared he was. nd then buggers it up royally by saying the last time he was frightened was at Darth Maul's little brother in Insidious, a film about as scary as Scooby Doo. ey Scooby Doo is pretty darn scary. I mean.. a talking dog... ... More

Posted by OPEN YOUR EYES at 17:37, 13 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Scary? Don't be a pussy!

L: Timon L: Bighousewill I don't believe in ghosts this film had no effect on me I manned up big time for this film I can sleep in a darkened room no prob. omeone's going overboard on letting us know how unscared he was. nd then buggers it up royally by saying the last time he was frightened was at Darth Maul's little brother in Insidious, a film about as scary as Scooby Doo. ... More

Posted by horribleives at 17:18, 13 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Scary? Don't be a pussy!

L: Bighousewill I don't believe in ghosts this film had no effect on me I manned up big time for this film I can sleep in a darkened room no prob. omeone's going overboard on letting us know how unscared he was. Congratulations sir. I'll be sure to pass it on to all the girls at school, so they know how brave you are. ... More

Posted by Timon at 17:13, 13 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: WHY!!!!!!!!!??????

L: Timon What I wanted to know is why you'd continue to live in that village if you had kids. MOVE AWAY! was my thought! Great film and lost count of the times that I jumped. Not read the book or seen the play so went in blind (so to speak) and bloody creepy... Pretty impressed with Danial Radcliffe as well, thought he did a decent job. ... More

Posted by Hobbitonlass at 13:21, 13 February 2012 | Report This Post


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