29 November 2014

(1989)

First televised by the BBC in December 1989 and based on the Susan Hill novel of the same name, The Woman in Black is a stunning example of terror firmly founded on solid performances, carefully constructed atmosphere and chilling imagery.

Solicitor Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) leaves his hometown of London for the coastal town of Crythin Gifford. He plans to attend the funeral of the widow Alice Drablow and settle up her estate, one of his firm's longstanding clients.

Arriving at Crythin, Arthur meets with a steely silence by the townspeople...who are unwilling to discuss anything about the enigmatic Mrs. Drablow. But at her nearly unattended service, Arthur sees a woman dressed entirely in black (Pauline Moran)...a solitary figure at the back of the chapel.

Managing finally to reach the secluded and misty mansion of his deceased client (accessible only by carriage and at low tide), Arthur spies the black visage again - this time in the cemetery yard adjoining the house.

Arthur takes inventory of the estate items. As he waits on the road for the carriage that will take him back to town, he suddenly finds himself caught in a heavy, palpable fog. Without warning...unearthly wails erupt through the mists, sounds of someone in torment and in deadly pain. Miraculously making his way back to the Drablow house, Arthur is surprised to see the carriage arrive for him.

In town, he realizes he must return to the estate and complete his job. A recorder left on the premises and audio tapes of confessional snippets from Drablow lead Arthur on a journey of unlocking secrets, doors...and resurrecting ghosts.

Rawlins' exemplary performance as solicitor Arthur Kidd is the chief backbone behind The Woman in Black.

Together with an intentionally slow-moving atmosphere...and revealing itself methodically piece by piece, this film is a ghost tale of calculation as well as of spirit.

The climax of The Woman in Black alone should assure its standing as a first-rate bone chiller. It's an utterly brave choice of depressing 'justice' (for Kidd) and one which hearkens back to the best of the downbeat drama-thrillers of the 1970s.

Effective ghost stories are a fragile birth. What induces fear? The Woman in Black successfully distills the question to its absolute lowest common denominator. Eschewing multi-layered plots, meandering narratives or violent gore, Black concentrates full steam on the characterization of Kidd, the atmosphere of the misty Crythin and the insurmountable Drablow secret which pervades it all.


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