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The Woman in Black (1989 film)

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The Woman in Black (1989 film)

This article is about the 1989 film. For the 2012 film, see The Woman in Black (2012 film).
The Woman in Black
DVD cover for the Woman in Black
Directed by Herbert Wise
Written by Nigel Kneale, Susan Hill
Starring Adrian Rawlins
Bernard Hepton
David Daker
Pauline Moran
Music by Rachel Portman
Distributed by Central Independent Television (UK)
Release date(s) December 24, 1989 (UK)
Running time 100 min
Country England
Language English

The Woman in Black is a 1989 television drama production starring Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker and Pauline Moran. Nigel Kneale adapted it from the novel of the same name by Susan Hill and it was directed by Herbert Wise. The programme was produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV Network, and was an unexpected success.

Plot synopsis

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 widow who lived alone at Eel Marsh House. On the train to Crythin Gifford, Kidd meets Sam Toovey, a local land owner who seems unsettled upon hearing that Kidd is here to deal with the belongings of the late Mrs. Drablow. In the seaside town of Crythin, Kidd lodges at a local inn where he finds the townspeople reluctant to talk about Mrs. Drablow's dreary home.

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 and mentions the woman to Mr. Pepperell. Meanwhile, in town, a truck carrying heavy lumber accidentally drops its load and a log falls on a gypsy child, crushing her legs.

Kidd decides to make his way to Eel Marsh House, which is connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway and frequently hidden by mist. Kidd is driven there in a trap by Keckwick, a local man who knows the timing of the tides. He 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.

While on the path towards the town, the mist rolls in, rendering Kidd blind. He hears the sound of a horse trotting down the path. Thinking it is Keckwick, he starts walking towards it. However, Kidd then hears sounds of the horse struggling and a child crying and screaming. The mist makes Kidd lose his way, leaving him no choice but to go back towards the house.

When Keckwick brings him back to 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. A football drops onto the floor, which was the source of the sound. Suddenly, the sound of a child's laughter fills the room, along with a soft 'Hello?'. 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.

Broadcast history and availability

It was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on ITV on Christmas Eve 1989 (repeated only once by Channel 4 over 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 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. Apparently the rights have been purchased twice and currently reside with the U.S. studio.[1]


The programme was filmed 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.


  • The novel and play are not to be confused with Wilkie Collins's Victorian thriller The Woman in White - although Susan Hill admitted this is what inspired the name for her own.
  • The actress who portrays The Woman in Black, Pauline Moran, is best known for playing Miss Lemon, the redoubtable secretary of Hercule Poirot, in the LWT television series Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet.
  • The adaptation differs from the novel in several small ways.
    • Mr Kidd is named Kipps in the book, other names are also different.
    • In the novel, Kipps himself does not die; the entire tale is told years later by an elderly Kipps whose wife and child had been killed in an accident involving a runaway horse and trap whilst he looked on.
    • Mr Sweetman (in the novel he is called Mr. Bentley) is a kindly figure in the novel, unlike the disdainful coward of the adaptation.
    • The phonograph does not appear in the novel.
    • The dog Spider is female in the novel, male in the adaptation.
    • Kidd/ Kipps does not burn down his law office in the novel.
    • The accident involving the gypsy girl does not happen in the novel.
    • The child does not talk to Kipps in the novel.
    • The toy soldier does not appear in the novel.
    • Spider remains with Kipps in the novel and almost drowns in the marshes after being lured into them by (presumably) the Woman in Black. Kipps manages to save her and almost drowns himself. When he comes back ashore and looks up at the nursery window, the Woman in Black is watching him.
    • In the novel Kipps hears the sound of a rocking chair coming from the nursery, not a ball bouncing.
    • In the novel, Sam Daily's wife is very shy and withdrawn.
  • In the adaptation, references to Charlie Chaplin and the Great War are used to set the scene historically.
  • The screenwriter, Nigel Kneale, is best known for his Quatermass films.

Awards and nominations

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


External links

  • Stage play website
  • Susan Hill official site
  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
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