THE WOMAN IN BLACK
A Ghost With Some Unfinished Business
When Susan Hill published The Woman in Black as a novel in 1982, she never
it would have a life beyond its original medium. "You don't, do you?" she says.
don't write for other mediums. You just write a book and then other people take
But she's used to people adapting her work, especially The Woman in Black, which
been turned into a TV movie, a radio series, a play and now a feature film. "The
that the book is still there," she says. "It's the art of adaptation - which I
could never do.
With the play and now the film, each person has taken my book and remained true
spirit of it, whilst reinterpreting it to suit the new medium."
This is the first time Hill's novel - now nearly thirty years old - has been
adapted for the
big screen. The project first came to producer Richard Jackson, of Talisman
1997. Following the success of Talisman's production of Rob Roy, Hill's agent
approached Jackson to explore the possibility of a big screen adaptation of The
in Black. "It turned out to be a surprisingly tricky story to adapt," he
confides. "Over the
years, we made several attempts with different screenwriters to adapt the story
but I was
never fully satisfied with the scripts."
The initial impetus that breathed life into this production came from a meeting
producer and president & CEO of Hammer, Simon Oakes, who was, at the time, in
process of re-launching the historic Hammer brand. "I think it's fair to say I
cautious about where that would lead, as there'd been other attempts to
Hammer over the years," reveals Jackson. "But Simon made it clear they were very
serious and there was a level of ambition to ensure that we'd make a high-end
respectful of Susan's narrative voice but at the same time that would appeal to
"Simon was always very clear to me from the outset that his incarnation of
would focus on genre movies that are intelligent," continues Jackson. "And I
would be something Susan would respond to favourably, as well."
For Oakes, The Woman in Black was one of the first properties of interest to the
recently reborn genre label. "One of the things we talked about, as a team, when
put this new incarnation of Hammer together was that horror is made of many
genres and subgenres but in recent years the tendency has been for body count
he explains. "We wanted to explore something different, and while there'd been a
movie and a stage play, we recognized a great opportunity in The Woman in Black
combine Susan Hill's gothic ghost story with a modern sensibility."
The production sought a screenwriter capable of overcoming the hurdles
those who had taken on the task in previous years. "We identified Jane Goldman
someone we all wanted to work with," says Jackson. "Luckily, she was excited
project from the outset and she was able to crack it in terms of overcoming the
problems of how to tell this story for film."
Says Oakes: "I'd read about Jane and knew her work. I knew she'd be right for
screenplay made everything fall into place. James Watkins, the director, read it
loved it. Daniel Radcliffe read it right after the last day of Harry Potter and
Jane had a huge part to play in getting the right people involved."
Kick-Ass screenwriter Goldman had long been a fan of the novel. "It's a great
storytelling. It has everything you'd want in a ghost story - a spooky house, an
interesting protagonist and a terrifying ghost, as well as many additional
elements," observes Goldman.
Goldman was concerned that she strike the right balance of tone in writing the
screenplay. "It's a tough one to adapt," she says. "It was always clear, because
very economically told story, that to work as a film it needed additional
She continues: "For me it was about introducing The Woman in Black to a
audience. In a way, I was attempting to do in cinematic language what
(playwright) Stephen Mallatratt had done in the theatre."
One of the key changes made to the novel is the earlier introduction of Kipps'
in the novel isn't born until after Kipps returns to London from the village of
Gifford. In Goldman's screenplay, he is introduced in the film's opening scenes.
struggle with being separated from Joseph during his time in Crythin Gifford
key plot point and adds another layer of dread as he learns the secrets of this
"The novel works beautifully because it's completely in the style of a classic
ghost story, where you don't ask the sort of questions that you ask when you
film," explains Goldman, "'like 'Why does Arthur not leave the village
There are certain cinematic conventions that I think we needed to address. It
important to answer questions about what's driving his character and why it's
for him to remain in the village."
Hill says she was thrilled with the result. "When Jane sent me the script it was
for me to
look at it and say, 'Yeah, this is fine, butâ€¦'" she notes. "But I just thought
terrific. I think Jane thought that I might be offended by some of the changes
story. What would have worried me is if she'd turned it into something like a
but she hadn't. She's just so skilled. She's managed to make it her own while
allowing it to be mine."
Eden Lake director James Watkins had read a story in the trade press about
writing the screenplay, and asked his agent to inquire about the project. "I'd
working on a ghost story myself, but I couldn't make it work for me," Watkins
"When I read Jane's script, it spoke to everything that I wanted to achieve with
project. It just had that sense that it was scary but it also had an emotional
element in it.
It really moved me, and as soon as I'd read it I knew I wanted to do it."
"James is a very, very smart guy," says Oakes. "He's a great director who
both how to tell a story and how to get great scares out of it."
Working with Watkins, Goldman began a process of refining the script; a process
believes helped maintain the spirit of Hill's novel. "In early drafts there were
of flashbacks involving the Woman," she reveals, "but we were able to work
this process of continually dialling it back. I feel that it grew much stronger
that - there's not the back story about how the Woman in Black became the Woman
Black. It's not Freddy Krueger! It's about Arthur's experience of discovering
horrific secrets and our discovering what happened through his eyes."
Important for producer Jackson, too, was that The Woman in Black be accessible
audiences generally disinclined to enjoy genre cinema. "We hope that people who
looking for a movie will consider The Woman in Black as their first choice
sufficiently well made to engage them," he says, "regardless of whether they'd
be interested in a genre film. And that's Daniel Radcliffe's attraction as the
star - to
encourage a much wider audience to buy their tickets and come and enjoy it."
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