Friday, 22 June 2012


Thought I'd go a bit topical this week and tie it in with the DVD release of Hammer's adaptation of the FANTASTIC Susan Hill novel.

For most people who saw this far more faithful ITV adaptation more than 20 years ago, this review should reawaken some chills...


Dir: Herbert Wise (Written by Nigel Kneale and Susan Hill)
Starring: Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker, Pauline Moran

SUMMARY: Within just a few moments of this TV movie starting, it becomes all too clear that this is OLD SCHOOL. And in a pretty charming way. Nice. We cut to Arthur Kidd (renamed from Arthur Kipps in the book) as he heads into work at a law firm. A quick reference to the latest Charlie Chaplin film from some MASSIVELY UNPROFESSIONAL law clerks helps bludgen us to death with provide us with a good dating reference. By this I mean it tells us that the story is taking place in the 1920s, not that it tells girls we might be interested in that we're witty, hung like donkeys and ALWAYS put the toilet seat down after a wee.
Arthur is then summoned to his boss' office. Immediately we see that Mr Sweetman is a KNOB. Everything he says in this scene seems to be based along the following lines: 'You're a useless excuse for a solicitor, you will undoubtedly shame this office and nobody thinks you can do anything... however, I want you to travel up north on your own to deal with the estate with a longtime client of this firm with no help because I'm sure you can handle it. Oh, by the way, I hate your face.'
Clearly fired up to impress a boss he'd be better off telling to FUCK OFF, Arthur heads off to his wife, young son, baby daughter and nurse to do ALL THE WORK for them. Their's is a happy home. We can tell this because Arthur gives his son a kazoo.

A kazoo.


It's not exactly a Nintendo DS, Dad...

Anyway, Arthur heads off to catch the train to the marvellously named Crythin Gifford. It is MILES away. We can tell this because he meets a nosy man who talks to him on the train (DEFINITELY not in London anymore).
Sam (that's his name) has a good gruff accent and no-nonsense demeanour, although he gets a little more cagey when talking about Arthur's destination Eel Marsh House (SOUNDS DELIGHTFUL!) and Mrs Drablow, the woman whose death has sent Arthur on his merry way. At the other end Arthur reveals his Cityness by looking a bit surprised to see there are no cabs at a station which is in the arse end of NOWHERE. Luckily Sam (who is clearly a Ron Burgundy-esque BIG DEAL around here) offers him a lift to the Gifford Arms.
There are more gruff, no-nonsense common people here. Arthur seems a little unsure of how to speak to them. I'm amazed he's even trying through these accents.
The inn isn't exactly 5 star but it seems nice enough. The next day sees Arthur going to see a local solicitor, Mr Pepperell. If Big Sammy Flashybollocks wasn't quite elusive enough about Eel Marsh House, Pepperell is here to take up the slack. He practically crosses himself when they mention the place!
The two lawyers wander through Crythin Gifford on a busy market day and we get some good period details. By this I mean the town looks right and displays a nice amount of character for the time in which it's set, not that it discusses the heaviness of flow during its monthly cycle.
And from the bustling town we go to THE BLEAKEST CHURCHYARD EVER. A horsedrawn carriage carrying Mrs Drablows remains arrives, with a fine array of behatted Pallbearers.

No, not him...

Inside the church, Arthur and Pepperell are the only mourners... until a WOMAN IN BLACK arrives. 
I'm sure she's not important to this story...
She stands at the back being eerie. A fine talent, that.
Out in the churchyard the not-very-popular Mrs Drablow is interred. Once again TWIB (Galaxy defender!) appears, watching from a safe distance. As Arthur and Pepperell head off they see a load of children by the churchyard wall, watching the proceedings (it's grim up North, they have to make their own entertainment!)
After basically filling his pants when Arthur asks about TWIB (She won't let you remember!), Pepperell chases the kids away. Arthur realises that this bloke is clearly a 'nana and takes him back to his office.
Artie proves to be a little slow on the uptake and asks Pepperell if he'd care to join him at Eel Marsh House. You can practically smell the faeces in the air during Pepperell's garbled no thanks. From here he ushers Arthur out of the office, informing him that a local man, Keckwick, will take him over the treacherous causeway to the house.

An aside: All of this subtle but uncomfortable shit going down so far is called ATMOSPHERE. I would like the current generation of horror film makers to worry less about casting whichever rapper is currently a bit cool and more on this, please.

Outside we see amusing commoners doing things badly for our entertainment. Oh look there are gypsies! OH LOOK THEY'RE STEALING! HOW VERY SURPRISING AND ENTIRELY UNEXPECTED!
As a little gypsy girl attempts to run (probably to fetch a whole clan of family to steal EVEN MORE) a cart carrying logs spills its load (HMMMMPH!) and she ends up pinned beneath a log as more threaten to fall. Everybody kind of looks on until Arthur dashes into the middle of the Big Fat Gypsy Log-Squash and pulls her to safely. Big Sam sees this and suggests they hit the inn and get wankered, settle Arthur's nerves.
Sam here does something brilliant. He asks one of the most ridiculous questions in history: 'How was the funeral?'


'Yeah, it was fuckin' bangin', bruv, we were 'avin it!'

Anyway, Sam has some showing off and strutting in front of the less successful people to do, so he sits Arthur down for lunch in the middle of some locals in town for market day. Yes, they are gruff and outspoken. No, that is no surprise. One of them is kind enough to inform Arthur that his trip is a waste of time because NOBODY would buy that house. At this point I notice they are eating thick chunks of meat, fresh bread and a MASSIVE jar of pickled onions. The Gifford Arms has just reached Michelin Star status in my eyes.
And finally to Eel Marsh House. Keckwick arrives and he's that bloke who smokes all the time in Heartbeat! YAY! But now he isn't smoking. Lame.
When it comes to gruff, no-nonsense outspokeness, Keckwick makes the other locals look like Tony Blair. He pauses just long enough for Arthur to climb aboard and then they head out across Nine Lives Causeway (SCARY!) 
We get to see the quick moving, thick sea mists in action and realise that Causeway is bloody lethal if you don't know what you're doing. 
The house itself is quite nice actually and very roomy.

Upon letting them in, Keckwick takes Arthur on the WORST TOUR IN HISTORY.
The following ACTUALLY HAPPENS — Keckwick walks into a room: 'Her room.' Points at the chair: 'Her chair.'
Um, thanks?

Arthur nearly pisses his pants to discover that the house has ELECTRIC LIGHT! Powered by its own generator in an outhouse, no less! Keckwick then fucks off and says he'll be back before the tides come in. Yep, during high tide you're isolated in Eel Marsh House.

It'll be a doddle to sell this place.

Despite his deadline, Arthur decides to mooch about and explore the land around the house (Maybe Mr Sweetman the KNOB had a point earlier...) He soon discovers weatherworn gravestones and the remains of an old chapel... AND TWIB (dressed in black, remember that!) appears. This time Artie gets a better look, only to be greeted by the most malevolent PMT face in history! (we're back to a period drama joke here, aren't we?)
Fortunately Artie is a complete sissy ladyboy and he runs away in the girliest manner possible. After flouncing into the house, he locks the door, catches his breath and starts to explore the house. This consists in him opening loads of doors and switching on the new-fangled KICKASS ELECTRIC LIGHT, until he comes across a locked one he cannot open. Oooooooh.
So he goes into Mrs Drablow's study and promptly pours himself a massive drink. Arthur likes the sauce, seriously, I don't think he's been to a single place without hitting the whisky or brandy yet. In this room he finds the death certificates of two people who died on the same day, plus a photo of somebody who looks not unlike TWIB (walk in shadow! Move in silence! Guard against extraterrestrial violence!) He also discovers a phonograph and some wicked old wax cylinder recordings. Man, these things are AWESOME for creepiness. 


He listens to the recordings to hear Mrs Drablow recounting some pretty disturbing shenanigans involving an as yet undisclosed 'she'. So, Arthur decides to neck a few more shots. (He drinks a whisky drink, he drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a lager drink, he drinks a cider drink...) then promptly strolls out onto NINE LIVES CAUSEWAY TO WALK BACK. Is he fucking pissed?????
Suddenly the sea mists roll in and Arthur realises something we did as soon as he started walking — this idea was FUCKING STUPID. Luckily he hears the horse and trap approaching in the murk. But suddenly he hears the trap run afoul of the marsh. He hears the trap sinking beneath the surface while a woman and a young boy scream.
This sound effect is GENUINELY chilling. The voice actors nail it and you totally understand Arthur's distress as he flees back towards the house... but then Keckwick arrives and there's no sign or mention of any trap lost in the mist. HMMMM.

Back on the mainland Arthur walks through the churchyard, only to see that loads of the headstones are for children. One is for Big Sammy Flashybollocks' son. Just to make sure we notice this, Arthur reads it aloud for us. I'm amazed he can read, he must be bladdered.
After this he decides to visit Sammy and we see that he is indeed Flashybollocks as his house is MASSIVE. He has dinner with Sam and his wife and the table is HUGE for three people. You could play football on that thing! After yet more booze (TEQUILA, IT MAKES ME HAPPY!) Arthur and Sam retire to the drawing room where finally Artie opens up about what's going on. 
I'm not surprised, I'm amazed he hasn't got an arm around Sam while saying "I fuckin' love you like a fuckin' bruvvah, y'know, y'my besht fuckin' mate, Sham...' Sam tries to convince Arthur not to go back to Eel Marsh House, but when that doesn't work he gives him a dog instead. 


Spider (the dog) is awesome by the way.
From here Artie decides that he and Spider will stay at Eel Marsh House until he's able to conclude his business. The locals at the inn do NOT agree with this idea one bit.
Still, back we go to NINE LIVES CAUSEWAY (the location really is wicked here, it's so atmospheric and cool) and soon Artie is back inside the house, this time with Spider as well as the FRICKIN' SWEET ELECTRIC LIGHTING and booze.
After a little explore (that door's still locked) Arthur hears the noises of the accident again. It's just as nasty this time. So, shitting himself, Arthur decides it's SONOGRAPH TIME! BOOYAH! He hears even more disturbing things from Mrs Drablow's recordings. That night he is woken by an odd noise. It's a thumping noise coming from behind the locked door.


Arthur talks to Spider a little much here, then performs the feeblest attempt to barge down a door ever. After this fails (SHOCK!) he goes to fetch an axe ('It's a trick, get an axe!') Arthur walks inside and switches on the light... at which point a ball bounces out!
Arthur just about shits a brick and in the greatest reaction shot by a jack russell in history, Spider TOTALLY judges him for it.
Arthur is now in the spookiest nursery ever. Who the FUCK would put their child in this room?????
Just to make it creepier, Arthur hears a child's voice talking to him. While frantically glancing about he discovers a little lead soldier in his pocket.

And then the lights go out, accompanied by THE STRINGS OF FEAR on the soundtrack.

Arthur RUNS to the generator (I don't blame him) and quickly restores power to the house. Then just as things start to calm down again, an eerie whistling can be heard from out on the marshes.
And Spider runs off towards it! 


He disappears into the darkness and after a half-arsed attempt to follow, Arthur heads back indoors... but not before he hears the sound of the creepy accident on the marsh again.
OK, shit has just got real. Arthur heads back in and dives straight back into the sonograph recordings. This is brilliant, because as Arthur is driven more and more mental by his ordeal, his hair is getting bigger and bigger. By the end he's going to look like Tina Turner! Finally the truth about TWIB is revealed (turns out she's not just your first, last and only line of defence against the worst scum of the universe!)
For spoilers, see the section below.
Then Arthur discovers the toy soldier among his things and REALLY starts to lose his shit... especially when he hears the sound of a pony and trap.


Here we have EXPOSITION CORNER, where Sam and Arthur reveal ALL of the backstory that we have undoubtedly put together ourselves by now. Arthur goes to show Sam the nursery, but upon entering it sees that the whole place has been trashed. OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOHHHHHH!
That's the last straw, Arthur keels over. He is taken back to the Inn, clearly in shock and feverish. Upon being taken to his bed, we build towards the BIG SCARE.
I won't ruin it, but if you've seen this, you KNOW what it is. If you haven't... prepare for nightmares.
After his fever passes and the bad shit is gone, Arthur is visited by Sam who explains that Eel Marsh House, ahem, 'mysteriously', nudge-nudge, burnt down. There is no more need for Arthur to be here and as soon as he is fit, he should head home to be with his wife and family.
But just what affect has his nightmarish experience had on Arthur's state of mind?
And is The Woman In Black's (uh-huh, yeah!) curse finally over?

Now, I'll leave what happens from here to you lot to discover, but suffice it to say that if you've read the book and know the ending, this IS different, but still maintains that horribly bleak spirit. In fact, apart from some rather silly changes here and there, this is a far more faithful adaptation of the book than the recent Hammer film. It's also a tremendous piece of television, it looks amazing and the cast are all strong. Combined with the fantastic traditional ghost story feel, it's a winner.
If you haven't seen this adaptation, you NEED to find a way. 
Or I'll have to see my noisy cricket get wicked on ya.

HEY, I KNOW YOU: There's a very cool coincidence here. Adrian Rawlins, who plays the lead role of Arthur, has had a few roles in UK TV shows over the years (such as in Dalziel and Pascoe; Inspector Lynley; Casualty; Holby City and the AWESOME C4 superhero comedy-drama Misfits) however, the biggest title on his CV is EASILY the Harry Potter series of films. In these he plays the role of James Potter, Harry's dad. And WHO played Arthur in the recent remake? BRILLIANT!
Bernard Hepton also has a whole host of UK TV roles to his name, notably in The Charmer; I, Claudius; Bergerac and mini-series including Bleak House; Mansfield Park; Smiley's People and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He also had a role in Gandhi and did some voice work for the heartbreaking animated film Plague Dogs.
David Daker is even more prolific and has turned up in just about EVERY naff UK drama you can think of. Casualty (and Holby); The Bill; Midsomer Murders; Ruth Rendell Mysteries; Dangerfield; Heartbeat; the works. He's probably best known for his recurring role as Harry Crawford in Boon.
In a pattern that should be all too familiar now, William Simons (who plays Keckwick) is also famous for his TV work, most notably Heartbeat.
The Kidd's nurse, Bessie is played by Robin Weaver. As well as The Muppet Christmas Carol, she has also appeared in The Inbetweeners as Simon's mum!
Pauline Moran's most famous gig would probably be her role as Miss Lemon opposite David Suchet in Poirot. She was also the bass player in an all-female band called The She Trinity back in the 60s. Heh, cool. 
Most surprisingly, Steven Mackintosh, one of the no-name law clerks has had a pretty decent career. As well as the usual TV dross (Poirot again; Van der Valk; A Touch of Frost and Inspector Morse amongst others) he has some pretty decent film roles including a part in Memphis Belle, the role of Fred (Scrooge's nephew) in The Muppet Christmas Carol (AGAIN! YES!!!!!!); Winston in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; and roles in a couple of the Underworld sequels and The Jacket. Good work, fella. 

THE DEAD ARE NOT QUIET HERE: The villain in this piece is the titular Woman In Black. Jennet Goss in life (changed from Jennet Humfrye in the novel) was a single mother in a time when this was completely NOT COOL and she was subsequently forced to give up her son to her sister, Mrs Alice Drablow and her husband. Unable to cope with the loss of her son, Jennet attempted to steal him away via horse and trap across Nine Lives Causeway which connects Drablow's home Eel Marsh House with the neighbouring town of Crythin Gifford. The pony and trap became lost in the coastal mists and sank into the marshes, killing all onboard. Now Jennet's spirit, mad with rage and grief at having her child taken, has become a curse to the seaside town. Each time she is seen it signals the oncoming death of a child.

Quite what her powers are remain unexplained. She is able to affect the perception of those she comes in contact with, summoning sights and sounds to terrify them. She can travel some distance to fulfil her curse (as shown at the end). She is one seriously spooky bird.

BODY COUNT: 4 onscreen, TONNES more off.

CREATIVE CARNAGE: In terms of murder, the grim as all hell ending. In terms of terror, that bed haunting. It caused untold nightmares back then, it'll cause them now too.


MR SWEETMAN THE KNOB: 'Sir, you must learn to take yourself seriously!'
MR SWEETMAN THE KNOB: 'You must cultivate authority.'
BIG SAMMY FLASHYBOLLOCKS: 'I had no cause to visit her... and if I had...'
ARTHUR: 'There was a woman. She was a mourner, dressed all in black.'
KECKWICK: 'They call it Nine Lives Causeway. Like what a cat's got. That's what you need out here.'
MRS DRABLOW'S RECORDING: 'Last night she did not come until 4 in the morning. Then it was a bad night. A bad night.'
BIG SAMMY FLASHYBOLLOCKS: 'Do you believe in ghosts?' ARTHUR: 'Never have.'
ARTHUR: 'She wasn't just looking... she was hating.'
MRS DRABLOW'S RECORDING: 'She has become wicked... and worse.'

10 WORD WRAP UP: Forget Radcliffe, ITV adapts this classic ghost story just right

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