The Woman in Black (1989 film)

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The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black DVD cover.jpg
Directed byHerbert Wise
Produced byChris Burt
Screenplay byNigel Kneale
Based onThe Woman in Black
by Susan Hill
StarringAdrian Rawlins
Bernard Hepton
David Daker
Pauline Moran
Music byRachel Portman
CinematographyMichael Davis
Edited byLaurence Méry-Clark
Distributed byCentral Independent Television
Release date
  • 24 December 1989 (1989-12-24)[1]
Running time
103 minutes[2]

The Woman in Black is a 1989 British television horror film directed by Herbert Wise, and starring Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker and Pauline Moran. The teleplay is adapted from the 1983 novel of the same name by Susan Hill. It focuses on a young solicitor who is sent to a coastal English village to settle the estate of a reclusive widow, and finds the town haunted.

The programme was produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV Network, and premiered on Christmas Eve 1989 and was an unexpected success, though author Susan Hill reportedly disagreed with some of the slight changes Kneale made in the adaptation.[2] Another film version was released in 2012, starring Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role.


Arthur Kidd, a young solicitor, is sent to a small market town on the East Coast of England to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow, an elderly reclusive widow. On the train, Kidd meets Sam Toovey, a local land owner who is unsettled upon hearing that Kidd is dealing with the Drablow estate. Arriving at Crythin Gifford, Kidd lodges at a local inn where he finds the townspeople reluctant to talk about Mrs. Drablow's dreary home, Eel Marsh House.

The next day, Kidd attends the funeral with Mr. Pepperell, a local solicitor. During the sermon, he notices a woman in black standing at the back of the church, then again amid the gravestones. He mentions the woman to Mr. Pepperell. Elsewhere, a truck carrying heavy lumber accidentally drops its load and cripples a Romani child.

Kidd is driven by trap to Eel Marsh House, which is connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway frequently hidden by the high tides and the sea mists. His driver is Keckwick, a local man who knows the timing of the tides. Keckwick agrees to pick up Kidd when it is safe to cross the causeway again.

Kidd walks around the graveyard near the house when he sees the woman once again. Terrified, he flees into the house. While looking around the study, he finds two death certificates as well as pictures of a young woman who resembles the Woman in Black. After hearing some disturbing recordings made by Mrs. Drablow on wax cylinders, he decides not to wait for Keckwick and walk back to town.

When he arrives in town, Kidd pays a visit to Mr. Toovey, to whom he tells his story. Toovey tells him not to go back to the house, but Kidd insists on returning and staying there. Toovey then loans Kidd his dog, called Spider, to keep him company.

Upon his return, Kidd searches through the papers in the study but is interrupted by the sounds of a bouncing ball from upstairs. Spider starts whining and leads Kidd to a door that cannot be opened. Kidd runs downstairs to get an axe to break the door, only to find the door has opened by itself.

Behind the door, Kidd finds an immaculately clean child's nursery. Kidd notices that a little lead soldier somehow found its way into his hand. He then realizes that the generator is running down. Unwilling to be left in the dark, Kidd rushes to the outhouse to start up the electricity generator.

When Kidd and Spider are outside, Spider answers a high whistle and runs away. As Kidd searches for him, the noises of the horse and the child start again. Kidd, frightened almost into madness, rushes back into the house and locks himself in. He then continues to study the papers in the house and records his fears onto the wax cylinders.

From various sources inside the study, Kidd learns that Mrs. Drablow's sister, Jennet Goss, gave birth to a child but was unable to care for it. Mrs. Drablow and her husband adopted the boy, insisting he should never know that Jennet was his mother. One day, Jennet kidnapped her son and tried to escape via the causeway. The pony and trap carrying Jennet and the boy across the causeway became lost and sank into the marshes, killing all aboard. Jennet then came back to haunt Eel Marsh House with a vengeful malevolence.

Mr. Toovey arrives at Eel Marsh House, brought by Spider, and listens to Kidd's theories regarding the Woman in Black. He then tells Kidd that according to local tales, seeing the Woman in Black presages the death of a child. Kidd decides to pack his things and leave the house. However, amongst the papers, he finds the lead soldier. He points this out to Mr. Toovey, and they go up to the nursery. However, when they reach it, the room is a mess, with all the toys smashed and the furniture in shambles. This is too much for Kidd, who collapses.

Kidd awakens in the town inn to the sound of the child's laughter and finds the soldier yet again in his hand. After asking out loud what the child wants of him, the child replies that the soldier "is for you". The Woman in Black appears, hovering over his bed, and shrieks into his face, terrifying him into unconsciousness.

Kidd returns to London and his family. His boss instructs him to look through the box of Mrs. Drablow's papers that was sent from Crythin Gifford. At that moment, his two assistants come in and say that there was a customer for him, a woman dressed completely in black. Delirious with terror, Kidd searches madly through the box for the toy soldier. When he does not find it, he burns all the papers and the box, and half his office as well. His boss fires him and the Kidd family decide to leave London.

With the events apparently passed, Arthur and his family are boating on a peaceful lake when Arthur sees the Woman in Black standing on the lake, watching him. Petrified, he does nothing. A tree falls on their boat, killing them all.



The programme was filmed at Stanlake Park in Berkshire, using the causeway to Osea Island, near Goldhanger in Essex, and the local salt marshes, whilst scenes to represent Crythin Gifford were filmed at the National Trust village of Lacock, near Chippenham, Wiltshire. The external funeral scene was filmed in Sarratt, Hertfordshire.


Broadcast history[edit]

The film was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on ITV on Christmas Eve 1989, with the only repeat being on Channel 4 at Christmas 1994. Overall the TV adaptation stayed reasonably faithful to the original novel, although some of the changes angered the author Susan Hill (for example, the sex of the dog 'Spider' was changed from female to male)[according to whom?]. Arthur's name has also been changed from Kipps to Kidd.

Home media[edit]

The TV version was released in the United Kingdom on VHS exclusive to WHSmith stores, but only for a fairly short time. There was also a Region 1 DVD release by BFS Entertainment, released on 8 August 2000,[3] but it is now out of print and, according to the messageboard at the site of Susan Hill, the television rights are now owned by someone else. The rights have been purchased twice and currently reside with a U.S. studio.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

In his book Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide (2000), John Stanley wrote that the film was a "chilly British ghost story in the best literary traditions of H. R. Wakefield and M.R. James... [it] has moments that will freeze your bone marrow."[5] Lisa Kerrigan of the British Film Institute noted that the film "makes for a spine-tingling viewing experience."[6] In 2011, Complex named the film the fourteenth-best television film of all time, noting that it "disturbs right down to its unbelievably downbeat ending."[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The Woman in Black was nominated for four BAFTA awards, including Best Design, Best Film Sound, Best Make Up and Best Original Television Music.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hand 2015, p. 13.
  2. ^ a b Angelini, Sergio. "Woman in Black, The (1989)". Screen Online. British Film Institute. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  3. ^ "The Woman in Black (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  4. ^ Armstrong, Collin (22 December 2006). "Seldom Seen review: The Woman in Black". Twitch Film. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  5. ^ Stanley 2000, p. 585.
  6. ^ Kerrigan, Lisa (8 June 2016). "Why I love... The Woman in Black". British Film Institute. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  7. ^ Barone, Matt (27 August 2011). "The 15 Best TV Movies of All Time". Complex. Retrieved 5 March 2018.

Works cited[edit]

  • Hand, Richard J. (2015). Listen in Terror: British Horror Radio from the Advent of Broadcasting to the Digital Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-526-10256-0.
  • Stanley, John (2000). Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide. New York: Berkley Boulevard Books. ISBN 978-0-425-17517-0.

External links[edit]