The Woman in Black made its stage debut in 1989. It still runs in the West End today. We’ve all been on a school trip to witness the chair that rocks itself, the face that looms from nowhere, the anguished scream of the spectral woman.
The film version has a lot going for it. The first production to bare the hallowed Hammer imprint since 1979, written by Jane “Kick Ass” Goldman and directed by James “Eden Lake” Watkins, it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s first lead role since he played some pesky kid known as Potter. From the off, it flaunts high-production. We swoop over visceral landscapes pockmarked with period detail. Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones seems to have strained the film through a Styxian fog, while Production Designer Kave Quinn truly pulls out all the stops on one hell of a haunted house.
Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, remodelled for the screen. Here he fathers a doting son and, still caught in mourning after the death of his wife, harbours a belief in the supernatural. Threatened with the sack, Kipps must do the lawyer equivalent of cleaning the Gents; leave London, trek to The Remote Rural North and deal with the muddled affairs of Alice Drablow, a mad old lady who lives in the warm and cosy Eel Marsh House at the end of a treacherous causeway. But the locals in nearby village Crythin Gifford don’t want this urbane stranger. They seem caught in a collective torment – there’s a ghost in Drablow’s house, Kipps is told, and every time she is seen, a child dies. And so, while the rest of us would hotfoot it home for a Bornvil, a session with the slanket and maybe a cuddle, Kipps heads straight to the house.
And, for all intents and purposes, the story ends there, replaced by an escorted tour around a visiting theme park house of horrors. Radcliffe hears strange noise in far flung wing of the haunted house. He’s scared but brave. He goes to investigate. He opens door slowly, flame held aloft, jaw clenched, eyes wide. He sees the flash of a ravaged child, or the spectral woman of the title staring up at him. Radcliffe turns, still looking scared, and follows through the house. And repeat. For the rest of the film.
Woman in Black is out now in UK cinemas.
Text: Tom Seymour