The Woman In Black - The Woman In Black (Blu Ray) [Network - 2020]The Woman in Black has become something of a lost classic, there are many of us who remember it well and have been waiting since its 1989 screening on ITV to see it again. Barely released on VHS, never officially released on UK DVD but finally, after 31 years it arrives on Bluray from the good folks at Network.
The Woman in Black is one of the finest ghost stories ever filmed, and I mean that wholeheartedly. The film is based around the Susan Hill novel of the same name, and much like the BBC adaptions of M.R James’s Oh Whistle and I’ll Come, it is pretty much the perfect adaption of a story that has been deemed one of the finest ghost stories ever written. Borrowing heavily from another classic ghost story, Jack Clayton’s 1961 classic, The Innocents, The Woman in Black uses the ghostly figure to great effect. Not since Deborah Kerr saw the figure of Miss Jessel staring at her from across the pond has there been an instance of this classic horror trope proving to be so terrifying in any film. Much like The Innocents it is a subtle hand that ensures the film retains the terrifying quality of the novel, even 31 years after the film’s original screening.
The story follows young solicitor Arthur Kidd, played by James Rawlins who would go on to play Harry Potter’s father James in the popular series of films. Arthur is sent by his boss Mr Sweetman (David Ryall) to put the estate in order of an old client who has recently passed, a Mrs Drablow. Upon arrival in the small seaside town of Crythin Gifford, he finds that Mrs Drablow was a lonely figure living alone in her creepy old house, which can only be reached along a causeway that winds its way through the dangerous swampland that has taken many lives. After attending Mrs Drablow’s funeral Arthur begins to see a woman dressed in black watching him firstly in the church and then in the churchyard. The locals refuse to discuss the woman and it is not until Arthur decides to go and stay at Drablow manor that he discovers who she is and what she wants.
The Woman in Black is a very subtle filmic experience, a slow burn that gets beneath the skin and draws the viewer deeper into its web of intrigue. We become invested in Arthur’s search for information as he hunts through Mrs Drablow’s possessions in search of answers. The film’s subtle touch ensures that the scares when they come around are effective, and the film’s low budget ensures that Wise, who was unable to rely on flashy special effects, uses atmosphere, tension and suspense to perfection. I would rate this as one of the greatest ghost story adaptions ever made.
The production team of director Herbert Wise (I, Claudius), screenwriter Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, The Stone Tape) and producer Chris Burt (The Professionals, Inspector Morse) are like a dream come true, three individuals with a real understanding of what it takes to make great quality TV. On top of that, Adrian Rawlins as Arthur Kidd, and Bernard Hepton as Sam Toovey lead an impressive cast, while the brilliant Pauline Moran terrifies all and sundry as the woman in black. I was also really pleased to see the always brilliant David Daker as the innkeeper, Josiah Freston.
The Blu-ray features a lovely booklet containing an introduction to the Woman in Black, and interviews with Rawlins, Hepton, Moran and Daker, a cast list and more odds and ends, and the disc features a brilliant audio commentary from Kim Newman, Mark Gattis and actor Andy Nyman. Image-wise the print looks brilliant, the colors are natural and there is no bleed between colors, and the audio sounds crystal clear, which is important for a film that relies so heavily on its sound. The whole package is perfect and whilst there is not much to add in terms of bonus material, it doesn’t need anything. I, and many others have waited 31 years for this and everything about it is five-star perfection. Highly recommended.Darren Charles