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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Woman in Black: Local Girl Not, Ahem, Frightened AT ALL

Now obviously, with hindsight, I should have known better. Some years ago, I read what I thought was a fairly innocuous little book called The Woman in Black, a mildly spooky tale by a writer - Susan Hill - whom I much admire. And then I saw it last year at The Lowry, where my smugly confident "yep! I HAVE read the book, for I am a clever literary type" face was swiftly replaced by an "oh my God, this is THE MOST FRIGHTENING TWO HOURS OF MY LIFE" expression; indeed, had there not been a break for an ice-cream and some gin, I may not have survived the experience at all.

So, clearly any person of even limited intelligence would know to avoid the new film version like the plague, particularly if that person is prone to jump a little at everyday, non-frightening occurrences such as phones ringing and think-they're-funny husbands occasionally saying "boo". But then - how scary could it be? It's a 12A for goodness sake! It has Harry Potter in it! Surely at the first sign of trouble, he can simply wave his pocket wand and everything will be OK again!

Um, well, no actually; the film turns out to be every bit as terrifying as the stage show. Harry (sorry, DANIEL) plays Arthur Kipps, a solicitor sent to Crythin Gifford (definitely a local place for local people) to sort out the papers of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. As old ladies in this kind of story are prone to do, she lived in a big old creepy house full of things that go bump in the night (or indeed at any time of day); even better, Eel Marsh House can only be accessed by crossing a causeway that often becomes completely submerged, leaving the house cut off.

So why on earth would you go there? Simple answer is, you wouldn't, and as baby-faced Kipps innocently crosses the causeway you feel like climbing aboard your chair and shouting "no! Don't you see! It's the equivalent of the teenager going into the cellar in some other horror film - stay away!" Sadly, Kipps cannot hear us, and even if he could he has no choice - he has a young son to support, and therefore cannot simply give up the house as a bad job and return to that-there London like all the villagers want him to do. Children are dying in the village in a variety of horrific ways, and the locals have no doubt that Kipps' visits to Eel Marsh House are to blame. The plucky young wizard (sorry, solicitor) must uncover the story of the mysterious figure who haunts the house (clue: it's a lady with a penchant for dark-coloured clothes) before his own frankly adorable son arrives and shares the same fate.

It's a simple story, but then the best ghost stories always are, and director James Watkins has squeezed every last ounce of spookiness from it for this film version. The middle third of the film is quite simply majestic in its use of pretty much every single horror technique in the book: thus we get fog, locked doors that mysteriously open, creepy mechanical toys who randomly decide to start bashing their cymbals together, odd reflections in mirrors...and the rocking chair - oh, the rocking chair...

If this sounds a bit cliched, well that's because it is, but it doesn't stop it from being properly, edge-of-your-seat scary - if you can look out of a window at night without palpitations during the week after seeing it, then you're made of sterner stuff than I. There are a couple of weak links: Daniel Radcliffe is not entirely convincing in a role that requires him to play an adult with responsibilities of his own, and writer Jane Goldman's new ending will not please everyone - although I quite liked it, feeling she'd made the story her own whilst respecting the spirit (no pun intended) of the original.

Oh, and one final thought - is it just me, or is Ciaran Hinds a funny colour in this movie? I can't help thinking that DI Anna Travis would never have fallen for his gruff, gnarly charms in Above Suspicion had he apparently been painted such a deep shade of mahogany. Anyway, do go and see The Woman in Black - just get someone else to hold your popcorn for you...

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