Today I'm very pleased to be handing over my blog to another guest writer. I've known Jon Dear for something like fifteen years He's one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the subject of British TV, and he's the one person I know whose name features on the wall of the BFI.
When I asked Jon to write something for my project, he suggested Herbert Wise's 1989 adaptation of The Woman in Black, which he has strong memories of watching as a kid, and which I hadn't seen. This version of The Woman in Black is sadly not currently available on DVD in the UK, although US/NTSC imports are out there. It's almost freakish to find a piece of drama that isn't domestically available in some form in the present, and I think that it changes the way we read it as a text. It becomes rarefied, unusual. A relic of an earlier age.
Here's Jon's post on The Woman in Black.
Susan Hill’s 1983 novella The Woman in Black has proved fruitful for dramatists. Stephen Mallatratt’s 1987 play has been running in the West End since 1989; there have been two radio adaptations, and the big-budget film from a reformed Hammer in 2012 (starring Daniel Radcliffe). But the overlooked TV play from 1989, directed by Herbert Wise, will always be my favourite.
First transmitted on Christmas Eve that year, it terrified my 11-year-old self in a way that has never really left me. On retrospect, I was far too young to see such a production, but I lived in a pub and my parents were working downstairs, and this story provided such a dark fascination that the temptation was far too great to avoid.
|Arthur Kidd is a doting father.|
The story bears all the hallmarks of an MR James tale and indeed many trapping of the English Gothic novel but this is no postmodern work of literature, and Kneale doesn’t treat it as such And while it is a largely faithful retelling of the tale, Nigel Kneale’s influence shines though.
We see an isolated community on the brink of a great technological change from which it will never recover. Much is made of Eel Marsh House’s electrical generator and the introduction of a phonograph is a neat narrative device to give potentially clunky exposition via the voice of the dead.
|Shouldn't we go and talk to her?|
|The lonely mourner.|
|I need to keep my head clear.|
Herbert Wise's direction is well paced, tense and lingering when building fear, economical when scene setting, and the acting just the right side of theatrical. Hepton is by far the best performer in it. This is a production that is up there with the best of Lawrence Gordon Clark’s BBC classics and has aged that bit better.
It’s tragically unavailable on DVD in the UK, but if you can track it down, I urge you to do so. It’s the perfect Winter’s tale.