I watched the film adaptation of The Woman in Black years ago. What compelled me to watch it was a mixture of loving horror films and complete intrigue as to how Daniel Radcliffe would tackle an adult role. Anyway, I watched the film and I didn’t think about it again. It was one of those films that I really enjoyed but I didn’t feel compelled to rewatch. And that was that. Until towards the end of last year when I was compiling a list of titles that I would perhaps like to include in this ‘book versus movie debate’ series. I searched online to see if there were any obvious ones that I had missed and The Woman in Black popped up. I confess that I didn’t even know there was a book, how embarrassing.
Have you ever experienced that? Where you are unaware that a film is actually an adaptation of a book that you didn’t even know was in print?
Anyway, as soon as I realised that it was a book I was desperate to get my hands on a copy. I read the book in one sitting, well two actually. I began reading it and got one chapter in before I put it to one side to finish another book that I had already started. However, when I picked it back up I read the entire thing in one go. I couldn’t get enough of it! Without a doubt it has a place on my favourite books list!
Anyway, enough of my rambling. I’m going to structure this post in the same way as my previous ones in this series, and that will be with a brief description of the book and film, a study of the main differences between the two, and then I will end with my attempt to answer the question…
Which is better?
The Woman in Black: book
The Woman in Black was first published in 1983, written by Susan Hill. It is a classic ghost story, narrated by Arthur Kipps. He tells the tale of his time as a young solicitor, sent to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of the recently deceased Alice Drablow and put her legal affairs in order. It does not take long for Arthur to realise that there are some secrets surrounding Alice Drablow and her isolated house which the local residents are not prepared to speak about. As time progresses and events become more haunting Kipps begins to piece together the story of the woman in black, a story with devastating consequences.
The Woman in Black: film
The film adaptation was released in 2012, directed by James Watkins, with the screenplay by Jane Goldman. To say the film adaption deviates from the book is a bit of an understatement but I will get into that in more depth in the next section. Daniel Radcliffe portrays Arthur Kipps, a performance that resulted in mainly positive reviews. The film was a success commercially and again was well received by critics.
Now, what are the main differences between the film and the book that I discovered? If I missed any then please share them in the comments section.
THE REASON THAT KIPPS IS SENT TO EEL MARSH HOUSE
In the book Kipps is an up and coming lawyer. He must prove his worth, commitment to the company he works for and desire for progression by travelling to Eel Marsh house to finalise the affairs of the late Alice Drablow. In the film however, Kipps is fighting to save his job. His boss makes it quite clear that this task is his last opportunity to redeem himself or he will lose his employment. This difference didn’t bother me. I find both angles interesting, they portray Kipps’ desire to succeed but for completely different reasons, and so I didn’t mind that this change was made in the film.
KIPPS’ WIFE AND SON
The book informs us that Kipps has a fiancée at the time that he travels to Crythin Gifford. She does later become his wife and they do have a son but this is only at the end of the tale of the woman in black. The film approaches this differently. Kipps is recently widowed and he has a four year old son at the point that the story begins. The film is approaching matters from the viewpoint of an anguished widow with a lot at stake. I can understand this but I must admit that I prefer how the book characterised Kipps and his family structure. I don’t think the change was necessary in the film, I didn’t find it added anything to the story and as a result I was disappointed to see this change had been made.
Children play a much more prominent role in the film than in the book. The opening of the film shows us three girls jumping to their deaths from a window and it only escalates from here. In addition we witness the graphic death of Victoria and we see Lucy perish in a fire. These characters and events do not take place in the book. Alongside these deaths there are many scenes that include children, whether that be Kipps’ son in the beginning or the school children of the town he travels to. Overall children play a far more prominent role in the film than in the book. I again prefer how the book tackled this. I felt that the role of the children in the film (primarily the deaths) was more to add horror and a shock value than to drive the story forward and as such I found it at best somewhat unnecessary and at worst a little insulting.
This was a favourite part of the book for me. The mystery, the tense atmosphere, the first clues of the horror that laid in wait for Arthur Kipps. This scene does not take place in the film however and this really frustrated me! For me personally this scene is an integral part of the book and I felt it was a real disservice to Susan Hill that it was not included in the film.
The townspeople are completely different in the book and the film. In the book they are preparing for a market day, a big occasion for them, and they ignore Kipps. We are aware that they are less than impressed with his presence but they don’t engage with him. The only time Kipps interacts is during a lunch at his lodgings when he holds a conversation with one man. This man is reluctant to engage in conversation with Kipps. He obliges for a short time but quickly turns away to talk to somebody else. In the film however they play a far more prominent role in regards to their interaction with Kipps. They are openly standoffish and they tell him to leave on multiple occasions. They are also quick to blame him for the deaths that have occurred since his arrival. Again I prefer how the book portrayed the townspeople, I prefer the suggestion of fear, for me it adds to the suspense that Hill expertly creates in her story telling. Having said that I appreciate that a film must provide immediate excitement and action and so I understand the change being made even though I prefer the behaviour of the townspeople in the book.
THE LANDLORD OF THE ROOMS THAT KIPPS LODGES AT
In the book the landlord is immediately accommodating. He is one of the few friendly faces that Kipps encounters in Crythin Gifford. In the film however he is a completely different character. He claims they have no room to house Kipps and it is only when his wife intervenes that he reluctantly agrees to Kipps lodging in their attic room. This change didn’t bother me too much. The landlord was not a character that personally resonated with me, I did not find him overly important and as such I didn’t really have any reaction to his portrayal being different in the two.
SAMUEL DAILY (AND HIS FAMILY)
I loved the character of Samuel Daily. I found him an integral piece of the puzzle in both the film and the book. There were differences between the Samuel of the book and the film however. In the film Daily is the one who takes Kipps back to Eel Marsh house following his initial visit, whilst in the book it is only Keckwick who provides transportation. Also, Kipps goes to stay with the Daily’s far earlier in the film and under different circumstances which again affords Daily a larger role in the film than he receives in the book. In addition to this we often see the Daily’s deceased son speak through Mrs Daily (a troubled woman), this does not take place in the book so again it is a more fleshed out character. These changes didn’t upset me too much. The main reason why I love the character of Samuel Daily is his overwhelming compassion and kindheartedness. This is apparent in both the film and the book and so, I felt like despite the film making changes it still honoured the most important attribute of Samuel Daily and highlighted how important he was to Arthur Kipps.
THE JEROME FAMILY
Firstly Mrs Jerome does not appear in the book whereas she does in the film so this is a major difference. In addition to this, the character of Mr Jerome is rather different in the two. In the book Mr Jerome accompanies Arthur to the funeral and despite reluctance he is somewhat helpful to Kipps initially. Of course the funeral scene doesn’t happen in the film as I already discussed, but Mr Jerome’s demeaner is completely different from the outset irrelevant of this. He tells Kipps that he shouldn’t have come here, that he should leave and await postal delivery of any documents his company should need. Rather than organise for Keckwick to take him back and forth to Eel Marsh house, Kipps is instead forced to bribe Keckwick to make the journey in the film. These changes again didn’t bother me too much. I think this is down to the fact that Mr Jerome just didn’t have much importance as a part of the story for me. I think the film could have honoured the book more closely with regards this character because I don’t believe his portrayal in the film added much, if anything. However, because Mr Jerome did not resonate with me, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the alterations that the film made.
ADOPTION, JENNET’S DEATH AND NATHANIAL
I have grouped these aspects together because for me they are so closely interwoven within the story. I will start with the adoption of Jennet’s son. The film suggests that Alice Drablow orchestrated the entire thing, with this remaining a massive bone of contention between her and Jennet. This is not the case in the book. The book tells us that Alice indeed adopted Jennet’s son but it is not suggested that she was behind it, rather that she was approached. Alice did not call Jennet mentally unstable in the book like she did in the film. Moving on to Jennet’s death. In the film she commits suicide by hanging, in the book she develops and then perishes to a wasting disease. The handling of Nathanial (Jennet’s son) also differs between book and film. In the film Kipps (with the help of Daily) recovers Nathanial’s body from the marsh and gives him a proper burial. This does not happen in the book, his body remains lost to the marsh. Another reason for why I grouped these together is because I dislike the changes that the film made for all of them. I feel as though Jennet’s desperation was more apparent in the book than the film due to how Hill tackled events. I also feel like Alice Drablow was more interesting in the book because she was so ambiguous. We never really achieved a clear picture of her intentions, life and personality and I feel this made the horror of the tale stronger. In addition, Jennet appears far more threatening in the book than the film for me and I believe the backstory is the reason for this. Her evil actions are all the more significant because they are driven by her lost son. By discovering and subsequently burying the body of Nathanial, the film removes this angle. I would have preferred to watch the events of the book on the screen rather than what was portrayed.
In the book Kipps becomes physically ill as a result of the horror that he experiences during his time at Eel Marsh house. This expertly presents the effects that the woman in black has upon him and draws a parallel between his decline and that of Jennet as she succumbs to the wasting disease that kills her. This parallel is removed in the film and I feel it is to the detriment of the tale of the woman in black and the horror that she inflicts. Therefore I was disappointed to experience the change.
In the film there is a race to save Kipps’ son. He is aware that the woman in black is more than likely going to target his son when he arrives at Crythin Gifford. Kipps’ son is not part of the story at this point in the book so this is yet another difference between the two. In addition the film ends with the arrival of Kipps’ son and his nanny. As the adults speak the young boy steps onto the train tracks. This results in Kipps rushing onto the tracks after him where they both perish. Kipps’ deceased wife appears (a woman in white) and leads them away. In the book Kipps makes it back to London leading us to believe that he has broken the curse of the woman in black. He marries his fiancée who goes on to bear him a son. Kipps has to watch them perish as a result of Jennet through a pony and trap accident that mirrors the demise of Jennet’s son. You will not be surprised at this point to hear that again I prefer how events played out in the book. I feel it was more horrific, the shock of the accident was more hard-hitting and less obvious. I don’t feel as though the film achieved more by changing these elements and as such I prefer how this was handled in the book.
HOW THE TALE WAS TOLD
In the book we join Arthur on a harrowing walk down memory lane as he recounts the past. The film tackles events in real time. I recognise that the film had to make this change in order to make the other changes that it did. It couldn’t have Arthur recounting the past when he dies at the end of the film. I much prefer the book however, because it shows the lifelong trauma that Arthur has had to live with. In addition to this the book is more suggestive with horror than the film. The film takes a far more visual approach. This change doesn’t upset me because a book has the luxury of suggestion that a film is not afforded. A film has to be visual and so there is no option to honour the book with regards to this aspect.
I did say there were A LOT of differences! Thanks for reading until this point. Now, which is better?
I’m sure that you have guessed already but for me the book was so much better! In fact when I re watched the film after having read the book I didn’t enjoy it. I was frustrated at lots of (in my opinion) unnecessary changes and I felt like Hill’s story was not authentically portrayed and that’s a real shame. The Woman in Black is a wonderful example of Classic Gothic literature and it deserved a better big screen portrayal in my opinion. I have read online that the stage adaptation is extremely well done so hopefully one day I can check that out and it will restore my belief that Hill’s story can be shown in a way that is as enjoyable as reading the book. Until then I will absolutely be rereading the book but I think my recent viewing of the film will be my last.
How do you feel about my thoughts? Are there any that you agree/disagree with? I would love to hear!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this, it turned out to be a really long one so thanks for sticking with me! I will link the other posts from this series at the end so you can check them out if you haven’t already and would like to.
Until the next time…Jess x