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  • 15
  • Drama, Horror
  • 2012

The Woman in Black

Film4 The Woman in Black

Synopsis

A Victorian solicitor (Daniel Radcliffe) crosses paths with an aggrieved ghost in the screen adaptation of Susan Hill's novel and the sell-out stage play it spawned.

About

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh, my babies!" (delivered in a blood-curdling scream) is the first line of dialogue we hear in The Woman in Black. And it sets a precedent for the rest of the film. Subtle, this ain't. But then subtlety isn't really what Hammer horror's all about.

This is the company's third film since it resurrected its production arm in 2008, and it's classic Hammer territory. Adapted from Susan Hill's quintessential ghost story (and subsequent stage play), the film follows the fated journey of Victorian solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role) to a particularly bleak corner of North Yorkshire where he must go through the papers of a recently-deceased widow in a particularly creepy and isolated house. As is the habit of all horror protagonists, he blindly ignores the warnings of the terrified locals to keep away and it's not long before the titular woman makes her appearance. Suffice to say she's not very welcoming.

Jane Goldman's screenplay reaps every horror staple from Hill's book - and, in fact, any ghost story ever written - and chucks them gleefully into the mix. Thus we get glassy-eyed, sinister children (living and dead), rocking chairs that rock by themselves (creaking, naturally), music boxes that wind themselves up, a deranged grieving mother with a penchant for automatic writing and, of course, some really, really creepy toys. Not to mention the ebonygarbed woman herself who, let's face it, wouldn't be nearly so scary if she were dressed in a less horror-friendly shade of burnt orange or cerise.

Radcliffe has already proven his non-wizarding acting credentials on screen and stage, so it's a shame that this role doesn't give him that much to chew on. His character is really just a cipher to launch a series of shocks at, and it's perhaps because of this that he has a tendency to fall back on the tried-and-tested techniques he picked up at the Harry Potter school of acting.

Still, no matter. The shocks - and there are plenty of them - are lots of fun. As in the stage play, sound is key. It's all about those unexpected shrieks and bangs that get you jumping out of your seat. Sudden close-ups of contortedly screeching (and dodgily face-painted) faces are in no short supply either. Nor are "it's behind you" moments. In many ways watching The Woman in Black is more like a ride on a ghost train than a trip to the cinema.

Unsophisticated though the film may be, it's undeniably entertaining (at least for horror and/or fairground ride fans) and it's good to see Hammer doing what it does best.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Janet McTeer, Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds
  • Director: James Watkins
  • Screen Writer: Jane Goldman
  • Photographer: Tim Maurice-Jones
  • Composer: Marco Beltrami

In a nutshell

Shocktastic and schlocktastic, The Woman in Black is lots of fun, though not for the faint-hearted.

by Rebecca Davies

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