The Woman in Black (1989 film)

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This article is about the 1989 film. For the 2012 film, see The Woman in Black (2012 film).
The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black DVD cover.jpg
DVD cover for the Woman in Black
Directed by Herbert Wise
Produced by Chris Burt
Written by Nigel Kneale, Susan Hill
Starring Adrian Rawlins
Bernard Hepton
David Daker
Pauline Moran
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Michael Davis
Edited by Laurence Méry-Clark
Distributed by Central Independent Television (UK)
Release dates
December 24, 1989
Running time
100 minutes
Country England
Language English

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 by her ghost.

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.[1] Another film version was released in 2012, starring Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role.

Plot synopsis[edit]

A young solicitor, Arthur Kidd, 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 gypsy child.

Kidd is driven by trap to Eel Marsh House, which is connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway frequently hidden by mist. 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.

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.

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.

Broadcast history and availability[edit]

It 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). Arthur's name has also been changed from Kipps to Kidd. 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, but it is now out of print and, according to the messageboard at the site of Susan Hill, the TV rights are now owned by someone else. The rights have been purchased twice and currently reside with a U.S. studio.[2]


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 the village of Sarratt, near Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire.

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]


External links[edit]