Daniel Radcliffe's new movie is hotly anticipated. The Woman in Black is presented by the new incarnation of Hammer Productions, opening in cinemas February in the UK, US and most of Europe. But this isn't the first adaption of the story by any means...
Susan Hill's original novel was first published in 1983, then adapted as a British TV movie in 1989. In that same year, the stage play based on the book arrived in London's West End. The play has been running ever since, popular as a guaranteed spooky evening and turned a little-known ghost story into a huge success and a now a major movie.
The Woman In Black at The Fortune Theatre, London - website.
In readiness, I've revisited the TV version, which was released on DVD in the US in 2000, but now out of print...
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
(1989, UK, TV)
Between the World Wars, a young lawyer travels to a remote seaside village to conclude the affairs of a recently deceased widow. But local people are afraid of the old lady's mansion and no-one else pays any attention to the distant figure in black that he sees everywhere...
ITV obviously wanted something pretty damned scary as their Christmas ghost story that year, it first played on Christmas Eve! It certainly has some genuine jolts, but not enough to sustain the feature-length running time. Many other scenes should really be scarier, but the haunting gets repetitive. The stranger's make-up doesn't work for me, either.
This is all despite a good cast headed by Adrian Rawlins (below) as the young lawyer. Considering that Daniel Radcliffe has taken this role in the new film, it's a strange coincidence that Rawlins has since been in several Harry Potter movies, as James Potter. Bernard Hepton is the biggest name but underused. I was delighted to see John Cater (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, The Abominable Phibes) in a short fraught role.
The script should have been a good one, from Nigel Kneale, whose previous TV adaptions made him the obvious choice for this. The Woman In Black also echoes aspects of the haunting in his superb original script for The Stone Tape (1970).
The use of locations is impressive enough and the period-feeling is fairly good for TV, helped by being completely shot on film. But the key locations of the mansion and the causeway weren't nearly daunting enough, the backstory not clear enough to maximise the creeping fear.
Therefore I'm optimistic enough to say that the remake has plenty of room to really improve on a filmed adaption of this story.
According to the Wikipedia entry (which has spoilers), the TV version was only shown twice before getting a limited VHS and DVD release. With a recent problem over licencing rights, this version is unlikely to be shown again or re-released.
That leaves the windblasted field completely clear for the Daniel Radcliffe version...