Part II: The Woman in Black (Hill, 1983)
I had high hopes. The scratchy recordings of Mrs Drablow made me certain that the book would delve deeper into the history of Eel Marsh House, the sisters Drablow and the haunting. I felt certain that the book would be laced with more menace and despair than a mere TV film could muster.
In all honesty, I was a little disappointed. Now, let me stress two things. I know that without the book – there could be no other adaptations. I also admit that I have never seen the stage play – so I do not know how much it influences the TV film (though I would guess quite a bit).
The book was short. Disappointingly so. I feel that the TV film hints more successfully at the loneliness and suffering of Mrs Drablow. I was surprised to find that the phonograph is not in the book – and suspect this is something introduced by the stage play. Yet there are no diary entries or any exploration of Mrs Drablow’s thoughts.
I found the framing element in the book – which makes Arthur Drablow’s fate evident from the first page – rather boring. It failed to add tension and shoe-horned in a gaggle of unnecessary characters.
The most terrifying scene from the film is evidently inspired by the book – but nothing more. And the final scene which is so excellent in the film, is so badly executed in the book as to be almost comical.
I am genuinely surprised to find myself saying that the Woman in Black is one example of a film surpassing the book it is based upon.
I am being rather harsh on the book. I don’t wish to sound too critical but I suppose this is inspired partly by my love of the film and also because without the genius of the book, none of these adaptations would be possible. So I have to be hard on it. There are plenty of gushy reviews out there. This is my own unique comparison.
If I have any criticism of the Woman in Black as a whole, it is this. Somehow, there is something missing. Some depth, some insight into the characters. And yet with this, perhaps, something of the isolation, disorientation and cruelty of the story might be lost.
The Woman in Black is one of those works of fiction which seems to fill a space in the universe that had been carved out and preserved for it. As you read (or watch) you are left with the impression that you knew this story all along. It’s the story that everyone knows but no one ever thought to crystalise – at least until Susan Hill came along and gave to us, The Modern Classic Ghost Story.
Part III coming soon.