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Old fashioned Gothic chills in ‘The Woman in Black’.

July 24, 2012

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I admit to a great love for all things Gothic and Ghost Story and this pleasantly old-fashioned film fulfilled on every level. Ok, it wasn’t as crafty as The Others (although I may be the only person who didn’t see the big ‘they are the ghosts!’ reveal coming), a film it resembles in some ways, but as a classic ‘Victorian’ English staple it was pretty damn solid – the film definitely feels like it is from another age. Even the ghostly ‘effects’, as hammy as they were (screaming ghostly shrouded faces), worked just fine because they are so much a part of the genre. And while the film isn’t especially scary (I only jumped once) it is effectively atmospheric and creepy complete with suicidal children, graveyards, misty Essex marshes and superstitious villagers (creepy children are pretty much implied by any ghost story). All the ghost story boxes are ticked.

Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps (thankfully freshly graduated from tween fantasy fodder) is boyish and slight-looking yet also curiously impressive and moving as the bereaved father and lawyer. I suppose he must be to carry a successful franchise like Harry Potter. Smaller roles are played with sympathy by fantastic English/Irish regulars like Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds. The only problem is that because of the tone and the cast, as well as the intimate, dense scale of the production, it did not have the requisite ‘big movie’ feel and came over a little like an excellent BBC Channel 4 TV film. Not necessarily a bad thing given the quality of most Channel 4 productions.

The film is based on the best-seller of the same name by English writer Susan Hill and it seems it was a faithful translation (I haven’t read the book). (By the way, if you love classic English ghost stories read Sarah Waters’ wonderful, wonderful The Little Stranger.) And I loved the ending, which brought it home to me how good, solid unpretentious film-fodder is such a dying art. Small films made memorable by fine, sensitive performances. Kipps and his lost sadness are perhaps the more memorable part of the story: the woman in black pretty much remains a mystery and is pretty unsurprising: existing purely as a conventional ghost story feature.

Basically a satisfying evening in with popcorn, dimmed lights and the cat on your lap.

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