I love Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black. It’s a delayed text. In a crucial way its delay relates to grief, to the process of mourning itself where the teller is very reluctant to tell the tale at all because it’s too upsetting.
For telling the tale involves the re-enactment of the past, and this reanimation is harrowing for the narrator Arthur Kipps for the very personal reasons we learn about as the narrative unfolds. The novel is therefore a slow burning adventure: subtle, insinuating and quietly diabolical.
I remember starting The Woman in Black one snowy Boxing day and questioning what all the fuss about the novel was really about. Initially the narrative seems rather fusty and dull, a feeling generated primarily by the slightly awkward even ponderous narration of Arthur Kipps himself.
But I was duped. The tale hides its claws. Its macabre events unfold slowly as the narrative excavates up those moments where doubt transforms itself first into fear and finally into terror. And the power of the novel is that the reader has been arrogantly complacent in the beginning and we end up appalled by the motiveless malignancy of the ending.
This crucial delay in the delivery of horror is absent in the film of The Woman In Black. It relishes its creaky, Hammer horror status and seems to celebrate every nook and cranny of Gothic fear mongering. I couldn’t help but feel the village inn with its charming locals had been relocated from the set of An American Werewolf in London. (1981)At least in that film there was a sense of irony, of tongue in cheek humour at the whole interloper ‘foreigner’ device.
Reminded me too of family holidays in Wales or Cornwall as a child, where as holiday makers, we would stray into the local post office for stamps and meet a wall of local dialect, accompanied by stony faced stares over our heads.
No such fun in this film. Poor Daniel Radcliffe permanently straining at his script whilst wearing a fixed pale expression of dismay, did not ignite the film once for me. In fact the film seemed like a parody of horror, where the viewer is tempted to say ‘look behind you! ‘ or shout out ‘boo!’ at some of the clunky devices that were too unsubtle to unsettle.
If I was Susan Hill I would have been disappointed by the way the film force fed the audience a diet of suicidal zombie children shadowed by enough nightmarish toys and china dolls to rival Hamley’s toyshop: overdone melodrama without any real foundations for sympathy. If we do not care about the characters in the story, then it is empty of real signification save the groaning fixtures of shaky Gothic sets.
One scene in particular stood out for its spectacular silliness. Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) decides to heal the torment of the eponymous woman in black over her unburied dead child. The child had been tragically drowned in the dark marshes around Eel Marsh House, so Kipps enterprisingly defies the more practical plot of Hill’s novel and wades out into the suffocating mud at night, diving down into the mud in order to find the body marked somewhat fortuitously by a large wooden cross. This he managed rather quickly ( the film had a budget) as the child was trapped in a small carriage and with the help of a new friend with a car, the child is brought out. Not a hint of bodily decay and putrefaction in all that mud no doubt also populated by all sorts of hungry creatures.
‘Was he a very heavy child?’ I wondered through my disbelief at all the heavy chains and contraptions.
Unfortunately this scene just didn’t convince. Perhaps the dramatic intention was the creation of an ironically compassionate nightmare: healing through the escalation of intensive horror. Perhaps.
Hammer films’ House of Horrible Healing-the wonders of the oxymoron!
By contrast however and with the munificence of Lovefilm ( you can tell I have been reading and teaching Browning’s My Last Duchess) NOW THERE’S TRUE HORROR FOR YOU!
I also took out one of my favourite James Bond films.
Tina Turner’s purring theme song. The stilettoed silhouettes…
Goldeneye’s the one with that superb opening on the top of a Russian Dam, with the first Bond outing of the impossibly pretty Piers Brosnan before he got all sentimental with Meryl Streep in Mama Mia. Brosnan’s hair remains a work of wonder. His curls remained resolutely in place; unflustered by the cascade of Eastern Block evil about him.
The traitorous ‘British’ villain Sean Bean delivers his lines with his impeccable take on an Etonian accent, banishing forever those cruel critics who would anchor him so doggedly to his ”by ‘eck” role as Sharpe, the heroic Napoleonic soldier forced to act out budget battles on a thrifty set every week with five other actors and one set of uniforms.
But that is not what ‘we’ remember.
No. For us, for me, it’s the perilously sexy mountain road chase between Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 and a small RED Ferrari driven by Ms Oonatop, a woman whose capacity for sexual arousal triggered by random events would have earned her a job as a therapist in California on the spot.
‘Are we really about to DERAIL?!’ Heavy Russian ‘exotic’ accent. Scarlet lips wantonly open as barely disguised pleasure released.
Even Brosnan raised an eyebrow.
I laughed out loud. What a bad, bad girl!
And then what about that romp of a tank chase through St Petersburg where Bond is so bent on his purpose to rescue the ‘good girl’ that he takes out half the architecture of the city. Goodness can be such wicked fun!
The walls do literally come tumbling down. Again and again and again.
Yet I have to say, that much as I loved the red Ferrari, the phallic tank and Oonatop’s RED FERRARI I did find myself missing Skyfall.
Relentless Innuendo can only take ‘one’ so far….
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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