I’ve tried five times already to begin this review. And I think you know why. And, yes, I will talk about it, just not here at this stage. No, we’re not talking about it yet. We’re only discussing it as a concept for a later paragraph. But right now, we’re going to go over the plot of The Woman in Black (1989), and then we’ll talk about it and the 2012 version.
In 1920’s London, solicitor Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) is ordered by his boss to the northeast English coastal town of Crythin Gifford to oversee the settling the estate of Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow. This is due to all supernatural activity taking place in the north of England. Leaving his wife and young children behind, Kidd travels to the seaside town, meeting Sam Toovey (Bernard Hepton), the local landlord, along the way. Toovey hints that there will be few at the funeral. True enough, the only other person Kidd sees at the church is a woman in black (Pauline Moran). No one wants to talk to Kidd about the estate nor the woman he saw and, being unable to read peoples body language, Kidd heads out to the isolate and remote estate. It’s there that he is confronted by a twisted mystery, cryptic clues, and vengeful spirits.
Okay, we’re going to talk about the 2012 version.
I’d just like to say for you folk discovering that there is a 1989 television version of The Woman in Black that no, the 2012 version with Daniel Radcliff is not a remake. Remakes are stupid and a blight on modern society. There are, however, adaptions of Susan Hill’s novel that, I’ve discovered through personal experience, a lot of people don’t know exist, and I enjoy each adaption immensely.
Both films approach the source material in very different ways. The 2012 version is a gothic horror that uses exposure and shadow, along with post-production colour correction to creating a dense, brooding atmosphere. In the 2012 version you know, subconsciously at least, of the doomed ending coming.
What the 1989 adaption has, on the other hand, is a command of the uncanny through the framing of the shot. Adapted for television by famed screenwriter Nigel Kneale, the mind behind the Quatermass serials and the BBC’s infamous 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four, he brings the disturbing tone, if not the imagery, of those earlier works to Woman in Black. There is something utterly dreamlike to it, the type you usually get just before you wake up with sleep paralysis.
The horror of this version is slow-building, ominous, lingering at the side of the screen. You know before Kidd that there is something wrong, not because this is a horror, but because you see what he can’t. This makes sense, as at its heart, the 1989 version is a supernatural tragedy and, with most tragedies, the viewer needs to see what’s coming before the protagonist does.
Suppose you’ve seen the older A Ghost Story for Christmas on the BBC, usually based on an M.R. James story. In that case, you’ll notice a similar vibe from Woman in Black. An old, isolated location with a dark mystery. This was of course back when ITV made a whole range of dramas and not the same detective drama for the rest of time.
But, there is a problem with this version.
They left the advert ident’s in.
Which just rips you out of the experience and reminds you that you’re watching a film.
The Blu-Ray also comes with a commentary with Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and star Andy Nyman.
Dir: Herbert Wise
Prd: Chris Burt
Cast: Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, Pauline Moran
DOP: Michael Davis
Music: Rachel Portman
Run time: 103 minutes
The Woman in Black is available on Blu-ray now