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The Woman In Black – A Review

February 22, 2012

Normally when I watch a book/play to film adaptation, my biggest concern is the degree to which the adaptation resembles the original and the effect that any artistic license has on the overall production. WithThe Woman In Black, however, my intrigue arose not from the adaptation process, but whether or not Daniel Radcliffe could shake his Harry Potter shackles and convincingly take on a completely different role.

The answer to both concerns is a bit of a mixed bag. While I haven’t read the book (yet – it’s on my shelf), I grabbed a quick synopsis online before going to see the film, just so I knew what to expect and how scared to get. What I saw, in terms of narrative structure and plot, varied quite widely from the way I understand the book was shaped. The main body of the film, as I understand it, is fairly true to the novel, but the narrative frame is completely different. Arthur Kipps is portrayed as widowed with a young son, forced to take on the affairs of the deceased Alice Drablow in order to retain his position as junior solicitor to a London firm, whereas in the book, he does not marry and have a child until after Mrs Drablow’s affairs are settled. This difference affects the end of the film enormously and as such it is difficult to consider the film as an authentic adaptation; it is much easier to consider it as a film in it’s own right and seperate from the novel.

Daniel Radcliffe’s portrayal of Arthur Kipps, while he certainly looks the part, is undermined by the youthfulness of his voice. I know that Radcliffe is now in his early 20’s (I believe he’s a year younger than I am) and that at the time that this narrative is set that was a perfectly normal age by which to be married, have a child and have become a widower, but there is still something in Radcliffe’s voice that makes it hard to believe he could be even his own age. Perhaps this is the taint of eternal teenager-dom cast on him by Harry Potter; perhaps it is genuinely that vocally, he appears younger than his years. Equally, in spite of him looking quite the young Victorian solicitor, it is hard to envisage the boy we know as Harry Potter being a father and is in fact about as convincing as the last scene of Deathly Hallows (part 2) where all the main characters appear to be aged by about 20 years. However, Radcliffe makes a very good attempt at breaking away from the phenomenon on which his career thus far is predominantly built. After about 30 minutes of the film, I stopped seeing him as Harry Potter and he became Arthur Kipps, so I believe that as his career advances he will be able to firmly shake his beginnings and become a properly grown up actor.

Considering the film seperately to the novel, then, I have to say that it was very, very good. One never knows quite what to expect from a “horror” film certified as a 12A as they have a tendency to be rather tame, but this was definitely an exception to the rule. I’m not much good with scary things and don’t really like to be scared, but I do like a good ghost story and The Woman In Black satisfied all it was expected to be on that count. It was exceptionally creepy rather than outright terrifying and was full of little details that you’d miss if you blinked. Even with its departures from the original plot, the storyline was compelling enough that it held my attention for the whole duration, although the predictability of the ending did let it down a little. However predictable though it was in the end, it lacked the catharsis that so many horror films end with and I certainly did not leave feeling as though, despite the horrors we’d just been subjected to through the film, the world was alright. It’s incredibly wimpy of me to admit it, but I slept with the light on that evening, and still had nightmares.

I’m not sure that The Woman In Black is one I’ll buy on DVD when the time comes – as with most horror films, seeing them once is enough for me, but were I more inclined towards enjoying fear, I’d probably be pre-ordering my copy now. This is a film that will appeal to lovers of good old fashioned ghost stories and horror films alike as well as those who, like me, are simply curious to see how Daniel Racliffe presents himself as a serious, adult actor in his first major production since the end of Harry Potter (Equus and My Boy Jack don’t count – they weren’t in the cinema). This is spine-tingling, subtle horror at its best, and should not be missed.

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