Review first published 10/02/12
Following the death of his wife, solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to the town of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of a client by the name of Alice Drablow. Once there, he is forced to confront ghosts of the past through the secrets held in Eel Marsh House and the vengeful Woman In Black.
When I found out that Hammer was going to turn the novel by Susan Hill into a feature film, I was eagerly looking forward to it – especially as I have seen the stage version three times. What I found was a film that was faithful to the spirit of the story, if not a scene-by-scene re-telling of either the book or stage play.
Jane Goldman has taken Hill’s original novel and added new scenes which give a further tension to the piece. In some ways, she has harkened back to the spirit of the original Hammer films by creating a town under siege that was the staple of films such as the Dracula or Frankenstein films starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. She has also managed to enmesh the slow build thriller of the book whilst adding the short, sharp scare tactics of the stage version.
Director James Watkins adds to the menace of the piece with some atmospheric visuals and clever cutting. The surroundings of Crythin Gifford, The Nine Lives Causeway and Eel Marsh House feel like how they are described in the book and stage versions, whilst the slow cameras move which are then interrupted by a jarring rapid cut puts the audience on edge.
This film, unfairly so, is going to be saddled with the tag of it being Daniel Radcliffe’s first major role since that Potter chap. That’s not to say that Radcliffe is bad in the role, he’s actually very solid in the role of Arthur Kipps portraying the character’s lack of ease with the situation that he has been put in by his employer along with the hostility that he is subjected to by the locals. It’s also good to see Radcliffe, after being part of a large ensemble cast, take on the mantle of leading actor for a project like this as his character is the polar opposite to that of Harry Potter. In a lot of respects, Harry was a proactive character who seizes the initiative. Arthur Kipps is a reactive character – not only to the menace that surrounds him for the majority of the film, but also in flashback scenes to when his onscreen wife passes away.
With the focus of the film being on the character of Arthur, there is also a slight Achilles Heel as there are some characters who could and should have been more rounded in line with their book and stage counterparts – namely Keckwick, the cart driver, and Mr Jerome, Crythin Gifford’s solicitor who get to display more fear at Arthur’s task than in the film version.
Another area where the film could have been improved are some more bolder editing choices, either at the scripting or editing stages. (I don’t want to say where as this could spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it). Had the choices been made, I think it would have improved on what is already a very good film.
This film trades on chills rather than gore, so if you’re thinking of getting that bit of a “scare cuddle” this Valentine’s season, this is the film for you.
A return to form for the revitalised Hammer Studio following last year’s “The Resident”