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February 17, 2012 / magickittenblogs

Book vs Film part 3: To view or not to view? The Woman In Black

The Woman In Black is widely held to be a masterpiece of fiction, and also of drama, and I wouldn’t disagree.

The story centres on Arthur Kipps; a junior solicitor, he is given the unenviable but apparently innocuous task of visiting the house of a late client of his firm, to investigate what papers she may have there.  His boss, giving him the assignment, describes her as a “rum ‘un”.  This, is turns out, is somewhat of an understatement.  The closer Arthur gets to Crythin Gifford and Eel Marsh House, the less people want to tell him about what to expect, and the more we wonder what awaits him.  And, of course, it’s not long until we find out.  I won’t spoil it for you.

When creating TWIB, Susan Hill chose to draw on the traditions of the pre-Victorian gothic horrors, and also the Victorian ghost stories of writers like Wilkie Collins to create a wonderful and subtle mix of suspense, ghostly occurrences and psychological terror.  She avoids pastiche, choosing the best elements of the genre and avoiding the at times hysterical melodrama present in some of the weaker stories written in the 1800s.

I would recommend the novel wholeheartedly to anyone who enjoys a ghost story, but also to anyone who would like to write one – it’s a masterclass from start to finish in how to create tension.  At key moments, the atmosphere is palpable – there’s a description of fog that is especially vivid and creates the most amazing sense for foreboding I’ve ever known.

I’ve also seen the play, three times!  I went first probably around ten years ago, or more, with my family, then as a Christmas treat with my English PGCE classmates while still studying at Cambridge.  Most recently, I took BF as part of a pre-Valentines expedition to London.  I was really hoping he’d enjoy it as much as I had previously and I’ve got to say, even having seen it twice before, I was totally spellbound by it again, and jumped practically out of my seat more than a couple of times!

Stephen Mallatratt did a great job adapting the story for the stage – the whole play is basically two actors and minimal props, plus fantastic lighting, sound effects and willing suspension of disbelief by the audience.  He employs a really effective framing device – the novel is ostensibly the memoirs of Arthur Kipps, and in the play, Arthur is preparing to speak (perform) the story to his family, coached by an actor.  The audience is watching their rehearsal.

However, TWIB is also now a film, with Daniel Radclilffe.  I listening to Kermode and Mayo discussing the film and got the impression that it’s good but probably not as good as the book or play.  There’s no framing device and it seems the plot deviates a long way from the novel, which the play only does in the sense of introducing the ‘old Arthur’ frame.  I suspect this is going to be one for the LoveFilm list rather than the big screen.  I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise – please give it a try!

Woman-in-black

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