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A young solicitor, Arthur Kidd, is sent to a small British coastal town to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased client. He finds more than he bargained for when he stays in a lonely old house cut off from the main town by dangerous marshland and fog. The figure of a mysterious and deadly woman dressed all in black begins to haunt his every move…

With the phenomenal success of both the West End play and the recent Hammer Films adaptation, it’s easy to forget this earlier version of Susan Hill’s spine-chilling ghost story. Broadcast on the ITV network on Christmas Eve in 1989 The Woman in Black still manages to stir up a few scares in a slow-moving but effective yarn. Todays viewers may find it a bit of a hard slog, but there are some fine performances all round and some sharp dialogue from screenwriter Nigel Kneale which help things along. Adrian Rawlins as Arthur Kidd is particularly sympathetic and you cannot help but feel for our handsome but haunted hero as he is mercilessly pursued by the terrifying spectre of the mysterious woman in black. And just when you think he has escaped the demonic spirit, there are enough twists and turns of the plot to leave an uneasy chill long after the credits have rolled.

Despite being a little overlong and slow paced, it’s easy to see why this production was such a hit with viewers at the time. Television in Britain has a strong tradition of broadcasting ghost stories at Christmas, albeit usually on the BBC, and The Woman in Black was the perfect combination of period drama and supernatural shenanigans. The scenes set around the mist enshrouded marshlands and gothic graveyard are particularly atmospheric and there is one shocking moment of pure terror which will definately make you jump. At times the structure and eerie supernatural elements of this production almost put me in mind of the popular  Japanese horrors of Ringu and Ju-On. Now difficult to find on dvd and only available on region one (in the UK it was only released on VHS) if you do manage to get hold of a copy of The Woman in Black it really is worth tracking down, if only to compare it with Hammer’s new cinematic blockbuster.

Review by Richard Gladman

 

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