The Woman in Black – from book to film
**Massive, MASSIVE spoilers of both the Hammer film and book.**
It occured to me that in my last post my mind was more focussed upon comparisons between the Hammer film and the 1989 tv adaptation. But how does the new movie adaptation differ from the book?
Well, the book begins with Arthur Kipps enjoying Christmas Eve 1920 with his family. That is, Arthur’s second wife and the children from her first marriage. The talk turns to ghost stories and Arthur becomes uncharacteristically taciturn and walks out of the house. On his rambles Arthur decides that it is time he wrote down the events which have haunted To see a review of the work that gives this blog its title please click here.him for many years.The story proper begins with Arthur receiving instructions from his employer to go to Eel Marsh House, Crything Gifford to attend to the affairs of the recently deceased Alice Darblow. Kipps is not married though he is engaged to Stella and eagre to progress within his firm.
The film begins with the multiple suicide of three young sisters who fling themselves from a window. We then meet the bereaved Arthur Kipps, still morning the loss of his beautiful young wife and trying to care for his young son. He is sent off to Crythin Gifford by his villainous employer at the solicitor’s firm. Kipps is informed in harsh terms that he better pull his socks up and stop moping over his dead wife – or he’ll be out on his ear. For Victorian gentleman crying was of course a hanging offence, especially over something as insubstantial as a dead wife. Kipps feels very bad about leaving his little-half-orphan-son all alone for three days with no one to care for himm except his nanny. But being a Victorian gentleman, he isn’t allowed to show such emotions.
In the book Kipps meets Sam Toovey on the train to Crythin Gifford, who irritates him a bit by hinting at the dark shadow that hangs over Eel Marsh house and Alice Drablow. Arthur arrives in Crythin Gifford and settles into the Gifford Arms, where he gets more eyebrow waggling and dark hints from the landlord. These bumpkins and their funny ideas, eh? Trying to put the wind up the ignorant townie.
In the film, Arthur Radcliffe meets Sam Daily on the train, who makes a few comments about Eel Marsh house which leaves poor Arthur looking lost and frightened. He arrives at the Gifford Arms but is informed by the landlord that they don’t have a room for him so he better bugger off. Mrs Landlord, moved by the thought of kicking the handsome Mr Kipps out into the storm night, says he can have The Attic Room!!! *flash of lightning, peel of thunder, bats bouncing around on elastic* It quickly transpires that THE ATTIC ROOM!!! is the very place where the three young girls leapt from the window in the intro.
In the book, Arthur goes off to the funeral of Mrs Drablow with the firm’s local representative, Mr Jerome. They are the only people present – poor lonely Mrs Drablow – until a woman dressed all in black slips in and sits at the back of the church. Mr Jerome gets very testy when Arthur mentions her and insists he didn’t see anyone. Cue little kiddies at the local school lining up at the iron-bar fence to gaze sorrowfully at Mr Kipps.
The funeral scene is dumped in the film. Instead Arthur pays a visit to Mr Jerome (horribly acted here) who virtually boots him out of the house with an envelope full of papers and instructions to sling his hook back to London. Arthur instead bribes the driver – Keckwick – to take him to Eel Marsh House.
In the book, Keckwick is a minor but essential character. He is the faithful driver who takes provisions across the Nine-Lives Causeway in his pony and trap to Mrs Drablow. He is dependable, if somewhat uncomunicative and surly. He takes Arthur to Eel Marsh House, explaining the dangers of the causeway and treacherous salt marshes. Arthur explores the island a bit, the ruins of an abbey and a small graveyard. In the graveyard he sees the Woman in Black again, staring at him malevolently. She disappears.
Arthur Radcliffe arrives at the house (more like a mansion). He does not see the woman in the graveyard, but standing in the grounds of the house from an upstairs window. Other spooky moments include a fuzzy out of focus glimpse of the the woman over Arthur’s shoulder, and a glimpse of her eye through a moving pictograph. Arthur then moves down to the Nine-Lives Causeway as he hears the sounds of a pony and trap plunging into the marshes and a child screaming for help. Arthur sees flashes of the accident in his mind as the mist swells in around him. The scene reaches its climax as Keckwick appears through the mist and takes him back to the town. Arthur then goes to the police station where he tries to report the accident to the local policeman – and his sighting of the woman in the grounds of the house. The policeman won’t take him seriously, insisting that no one uses the causeway or visits the house. A trio of chidren arrive asking for help, the young girl of the group has drunk lye (Sodium Hydroxide, or Caustic Soda – the acid you use for unblocking your sink). The girl vomits blood over Arthur as he tries to help. She dies and everyone is very upset, casting angry glances and unvoiced accusations at poor young Arthur.
None of that stuff happens in the book. Apart from the pony and trap bit. Arthur goes back to the town and decides that the best way to get his work done will be to go and stay at Eel Marsh House. Sam Toovey lends him Spider The Wonder Dog for company. Despite his spooky experiences, it is Arthur’s curiosity but also his pride which draws him back to the house.
In the film Arthur goes to visit the Dailys. Looney Mrs Daily has evidently never got over the death of her son. She dresses up a pair of ugly pug dogs in sailor suits, feeds them at table and puts them to bed in a cradle. She has ‘visions’ from her dead son and uses a knife to scribble the image of a hanging woman on a table top. Arthur decides he is going to go and stay at Eel Marsh House overnight so that he can get back to his little-half-orphan-son more quickly.
In the book, Arthur hears a strange banging eminating from behind a locked door in the house. He continues to hear the screams from the horse and trap. He finds some papers which reveal the history of the house. Jennet Humfrye became pregnant out of wedlock. She wanted to keep the child but her family would not allow it. Her sister Alice offered to adopt the child on the agreement that Jennet would not be recognised as his mother. In time Alice agrees to allow Jennet see the boy and the two become close. Tragedy strikes however and the boy is killed, along with his nanny, as they cross the Nine-Lives Causeway. Jennet is distraught, she slowly dies from a wasting disease. After the death of her husband, Alice Drablow stays in the house alone, haunted by her sister’s vengeful spirit. This episode culminates when a ghostly whistle sounds from the marshes and Spider rushes to answer its call. Arthur chases him, rescuing the dog from drowning in the marsh. Afterwards Arthur becomes feverish and unstable from the constant onslaught of the haunting. Finally Sam Toovey returns to the house and takes Arthur away to safety.
In the film the scares come thick and fast once Arthur is at the house, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things or mixed up the order of others but this should give you a flavour. (Much of what happens is not in the book). The first sighting of the woman comes when she creeps up behind Arthur as he sleeps in the study, but Spider the Wonder Dog wakes him just in time. The photograph he was looking at of Alice Drablow and her husdand is now covered with scratches. He also spies a ghostly female face at the upstairs window. He sees this face again outside and when exploring the room, places his hand upon a misty palm print on the windowpane and his reflection changes to that of a screaming woman. There are the noises in the nursery but Arthur cannot open the door. Arthur discovers that Nathaniel Drablow was really Jennet’s son, that he drowned in the marsh and that Jennet hung herself from a beam in the nursery. Jennet blamed Alice for her son’s death, insisting that she could have saved him from the marsh. A storm blows up, during which Arthur sees Nathaniel clambering up from his grave in the marshes and he goes to investigate. Outside waiting are the ghostly figures of all the children that have died in the village and Arthur races back inside, only to find a trail of muddy footprints leading to the nursery. The banging resumes and Arthur goes to fetch an axe to force open the nursery door but once he returns it is mysteriously open. within the nursery is with the most horrific assortment of Victorian toys imaginable, Jennet Humfrye would have had an excellent case for child abuse on that basis alone. THe noises in the room are caused by a rocking chair violently swinging back and forward (we see a quick glimpse of Jenet sitting in the chair). One thing leads to another, Arthur drops his candle, sees the screaming, mud encased form of Nathaniel, as he tries to escape he is cut off by Jenet and ends up locked in another bedroom. Here the rotten, muddy body of Nathaniel begins to rise up from within the bed sheets. Arthur flees the house and is met by Sam Daily, who takes Arthur and Spider back to Crythin Gifford.
I can’t compare any of this stuff to the book because it doesn’t happen. The house is burnt down. Arthur goes back to London thinking that the nightmare is behind him, he stays friends with Sam Daily and becomes the proud owner of one of Spider’s puppies.
In the film on their drive back from Eel Marsh House, Arthur tries to rescue Mr Jerome’s daughter from a fire. She has been locked up in the cellar of his house so that she can’t come to any harm. This plan fails spectacularly as Arthur witnesses her setting light to herself with an oil lamp, as the Woman in Black looks on from the corner of the burning room. Arthur then has a conversation with Mrs Daily. She reveals that whenever the woman in black is seen then a child in the village dies horribly. And then – avoiding the chloroforming activities of her husband – she has another spiritualist moment and is possessed by the all the dead children who inform Arthur that Jennet is forcing them to kill themselves and that his son is next on her hit list. Sam and Arthur race to the post office to telegram the nanny not to bring Arthur Jnr to Crythin Gifford. But the post office is closed – some things never change. And Arthur decides that the best thing to do (instead of getting the post master to open up his shop) is to lay to rest the Woman in Black and Nathaniel by reuniting mother and son. All because the Post Ofiice was closed. Would you credit it?
As Sam Daily tries to drive Arthur out ot Eel Marsh House, the villagers block his path. They want Arthur to leave – it is his fault the young girl died in the fire. Sam makes a feint of taking Arthur to the train station but instead takes him out to the house. In an amazingly blatant nod to The Ring, the pair extract Nathaniel’s body from the marsh. Arthur takes him to the nursery, wraps the bog body in a shroud and holds a little ceremony. Jenet comes screaming through the house like a proper banchee and then appears to depart. They lay the body in Jenet’s grave and, hooray, hooray, everything must surely be fine now. Ha. Ha. Ha.
In the book the ultimate catastrophe comes in the park one day, when Arthur’s wife Stella and their baby boy are riding in a pony and trap. Arthur then sees the Woman in Black standing beneath a tree and before you can so ‘oh for fsks sake, I didn’t see that one coming’ they crash into a tree and both are killed instantly. I’m not kidding.
For Arthur Radcliffe, the end comes more suddenly. Despite having been warned by the ghost children that his son will die on a train, he thinks it’s perfectly safe to ask the nanny to buy some tickets for an immediate return trip to London. Then he decides to let his half-orphan wander around on the platform. Oh yes, the Woman in Black lures him onto the track as another train immediately appears (clearly the producers of this film know NOTHING about British trains). Arthur leaps to save his son, we hear a crunch, Sam watches through the flickering carriages of the train and sees all the children standing on the opposite platform, along with the Woman in Black herself. Cut to – Arthur and son huddled at the edge of the tracks. Hooray! They didn’t die after all! But wait…the station is totally empty. Oh. So they did die then. Cut to Arthur Jnr. “Daddy, who is that lady?” And Arthur replies, “that’s mummy.” Who is standing there all shimmering and white to lead them away from the Woman in Black. Final shot is of Jenet staring after them, and then she turns to look at us. Screen goes black.