The story of The Woman in Black sees a keen solicitor, Arthur Kipps, charged with the task of dealing with the final documents of a recently deceased Mrs Drablow. He treks from the London smog to the north-east, grey, coastal village of Crythin Gifford. The lady in question was a widow who lived alone and isolated on the Eel Marsh estate. As Kipps begins to order and make sense of the large volume of papers, strange things start happening in the village. Determined to keep a clear head, free of local myths, he presses on with the work, spending more and more time on the estate. It becomes apparent that his arrival and persistence in the village is the unequivocal cause of the unfortunate events unfolding around him.
Presumably, we’ve all seen the film. James Watkins’ 2012 adaptation of this ghost story, starring not-so-boy-faced Daniel Radcliffe, was highly anticipated. The trailer tickled our curiosity and got us interested. Who doesn’t indulge themselves to a fright every so often? Especially one with luring, gothic tones.
The theatrical film adaptation did well. It indeed induced goose bumps. The Edwardian village presented to us on the screen provided a perfect setting for 90 minutes of spookiness. An excessive amount of mist or fog took a primary role in creating the formidable atmosphere of the key scenes of the film.
Like in many cases, although we may not know it, a book inspired the film. Written by Susan Hill in 1983, her phantom tale includes all the elements of a classic ghost story. It is a relatively short novel and doesn’t demand massive lengths of time to read. That isn’t to say that the story isn’t worthy of recognition. It is an engaging novel, yet failed to hold within its pages the explicit fear that was instilled whist viewing the film. Hill did however, craft a genius, intriguing ghost story that accounted for the speed of reading.
The film and the book are great. The book obviously being the root of the former, but also the root of something older as well: the theatre production. With preconceptions of the book and the film, never has one been so filled with dread than during the performance of The Woman in Black. Written in 1987, the ingredients were very simplistic: Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation used a mere two actors and called upon the greatest of theatres’ commodities: special effects, sound, and most importantly, lighting (special effects, essentially meaning dry ice, a seemingly central component to creating visual success with this spectacle). Never would one believe that in a theatre, where there is nothing mysterious about a wooden stage and some curtains, such fright could be prompted, to the point of viewing the unfoldings through the slits between ones fingers. The use of lights and sounds to make the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck is a great achievement. The production certainly left an impression.
How do the three measure up then? The book certainly is a recommendable read; it offers a twisted tale, especially attractive for those who crave the supernatural. The film too, cannot be dismissed. It serves as a tame horror film, or genuine ghost story, perfect, perhaps for a Halloween evening, and could be seen as a refreshing alternative to scary films that only aim to please gore-lovers. The play, in its own right, is a masterpiece. The simplicity of the thriller, which draws the watcher into the depths of misty Eel Marsh estate is a piece of theatre that one should set about to obtain a ticket to. It is incomparable and arguably the leader of this trio, a trio that we are lucky to have, for our enjoyment and curiosity, at our disposable.