The Woman In Black FILM REVIEW
Taint it black
Daniel's inability to remember his shammy leather soon got him fired from his window-cleaning job.
Release Date: 10 February 2012
12A | 95 minutes
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Mischa Handley, Liz White
Sometimes, you can feel it. The wind howling outside. The strange tapping on the pipes, and that knocking sound that you can’t quite place. Daniel Radcliffe certainly must have felt it, when he sat on a crate, four hours after completing his final shot on the Harry Potter set, and started to read Jane Goldman’s new adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman In Black.
It’s easy to see what drew him in. When Hill wrote The Woman In Black back in the early ‘80s, she did so because she was sick of the brash American authors who were rewriting the lexicon of terror with gory gaping axe wounds and brutal monsters. Hill longed for a return to the subtlety of authors like MR James and Wilkie Collins, and took matters into her own hands. She wrote a tale of Eel Marsh House, a dilapidated mansion situated on an island only accessible at low tide. The house had a terrible history – a history that would be slowly unraveled by Arthur Kipps, the young solicitor sent there to put its last resident’s affairs in order…
Perhaps a few members of the cast and crew came up to Radcliffe, to congratulate him on making it to the end of the Potter series. But after a few pleasantries, he would have delved back into the script, anxious to discover more about Kipps, and his sighting of a mysterious woman in black, whose appearance, they say, heralded the death of nearby children. No doubt, if he’d thought about it, Daniel would have remembered hearing about Stephen Mallatratt’s immensely successful stage version of the book, which has run for more than 22 consecutive years in London’s West End. He may even have remembered that it employed a clever framing device, but as that device was absent from this adaptation, he may have waved the thought away, distractedly. He was too busy probably, wondering how he would give birth to his Arthur Kipps, a young, yet stoic solicitor with no fear of the supernatural. This subtle yet spooky treatise on grief would be an adult role for him, one that would steer him away from jokes about wizards and wands, and one that may even let him show a little range, as he lamented his dead wife. Better yet, the script had very few lines, which meant real acting – acting with the eyes, with the soul.
Of course it helped that the resurrected Hammer Films were actively pursuing him for the role. While the Hammer brand had become synonymous with Playboy bunnies and Kensington Gore, the new Hammer was sleek, classy. They wanted to remake subtle foreign horror films, and tasteful yet chilling faux-Victorian ghost stories. Sure, they also wanted to make terrible sub-Wicker Man nonsense like Wake Wood, but nobody’s perfect. The Woman In Black was to be the centrepiece of their reinvention and Radcliffe would be its focus. He could be the new Ralph Bates, for god’s sake!
Radcliffe probably rolled his script up tightly as he stood up backstage. Despite the revelers celebrating the end of shooting, he probably speed-dialed his agent and asked for a meeting. He’d meet the director, James Watkins, who’d previously directed the hoodie horror Eden Lake. He’d be impressed as James set out his vision: a genuinely creepy film that would slowly draw the audience in, winding them up tighter and tighter and tighter, until a rattled Kipps spends his first night at Eel Marsh House. We’d then enter a 20-minute uninterrupted scare sequence that built and built, with jumps smashing into jumps like a thirty-car motorway pile-up. And Radcliffe would sign on the dotted line, excited to be playing a character whose name didn’t rhyme with Barry. And all would have seemed to go well during filming, and all the ingredients would be there for one of the best cinematic ghost stories since Ring.
Only there was one problem. Reading the script, Radcliffe couldn’t have known that the Woman would be there, in the editing suite, whispering away. “Go on,” she’d hiss. “Add another sudden loud boom on the soundtrack, just because someone’s suddenly appeared in shot.” She’d touch the back of Watkins’s neck with an icy finger. “Add a Raptor screech every time I fly towards the screen,” she’d laugh, as she slowly unpicked the atmosphere of the film, and turned the soundtrack into a drunken fistfight between two drum kits. It’s a thin line between subtle and clodding, and Radcliffe couldn’t have known that the editing process would place his not-disgraceful performance within a noisy, clattering movie about a man who is either suicidally brave or clinically deaf. The woman would have laughed as the potentially bold film became a lazy exercise in cheapness with a hackneyed happy ending.
But Daniel wouldn’t have known this. He would have put down the phone and gone to join the others at the wrap party. He wouldn’t have seen the patch of breath on the trailer window, the slowly appearing handprint that signified death. But it was always going to be this way, because this film was his baby. And The Woman In Black, well, she kills children.
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