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The Woman in Black and the Hogwarts Express

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Dan Radcliffe trades in his wand and broomstick for a briefcase and a hatchet in his new film “The Woman in Black.” Taking up the role of young lawyer Arthur Kipps, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect… Previews looked classically terrifying and Dan looked wonderful in his Victorian get-up, so what did I, as a movie goer, have to lose?

One my greatest fears going into this film was Dan. I want him to succeed in the movie business, but he’s been Harry Potter for so long that I wasn’t sure if I could see him playing anyone else. And, as I settled down in my back row seat hugging my coat tight, I crossed my fingers, for his sake. There were little more than a dozen other people in the theatre, and it was only the first full day playing — was it that awful?

The short answer? No, it certainly wasn’t awful. The beginning was typical for a ghost story, but it was catching and disturbing, and I heartily approve. Then we meet Arthur Kipps, widowed four years ago and still grief-stricken, with a young son (Misha Handley) he can barely look after. Dan as a father… it wasn’t convincing so early in the film, but little Misha, who is Dan’s real-life godson, was adorably tragic.

For the first ten or fifteen minutes he was still Harry Potter, especially as he left London via a scarlet train, headed for the remote countryside. Luckily, as we meet the one other non-dead prominent character, Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds), Dan begins to sink into Arthur’s skin. Arthur’s job is to go through paperwork left behind in a dead widow’s mansion, and when he begins seeing a woman dressed in black the village children begin dying in mysterious ways.

I am disappointed at the depth of the supporting characters. Mrs. Fisher, whose daughters we meet just as the curtain rises, is brimming with plot potential! She’s caring and frightened and there’s just a smidgen of romance between the married innkeeper’s wife and the lonely single father. Mrs. Fisher easily could have added more dialogue, which was as scarce as Hippogriffs! The rest of the villagers, each with their own tragic stories and fears of the mansion, could have easily added a more human and less nightmare-like quality to the film. I almost feel like this would be a better TV mini-series than an hour-and-a-half film.

Ah, and now we reach the star of the film: that creepy, stone, vine-covered, menacingly beautiful mansion, set apart from the rest of the village by a causeway that made it only accessible certain hours of the day. Although if Alice, the deceased owner, had only died a month ago, why was the interior of the house such a mess? Was being haunted by her sister, Jennet AKA The Woman in Black (Liz White), driving her mad and hindering her house-keeping skills?

The nursery was my second-favourite room in the house. Full of creepy wind-up toys like cymbal-clanging monkeys, dolls with glass eyes, and freaky dancing clowns, it’s creep factor pretty much rocketed off the creep-o-scale. Along with the fact that Alice hadn’t bothered touching anything since the death of her adopted son/biological nephew and it’s where Jennet hung herself, the nursery is both haunting and sad.

First favourite part of the house is the staircase, chalk-full of ancient portraits covered with artfully placed cobwebs. I love old paintings, so enough said there.

And, because I’m picky and appreciate details, I’ll whizz through some other things: Music — alright. Underused around the middle of the film. Use of mirrors — awesome, but you have to pay attention. Costumes — amazing. Everyone should dress like that. Font for credits — too modern for my liking. Could have used the same calligraphy used for Jennet’s letters. Ending — I didn’t like it. It felt somewhat rushed and unfinished, and it made me a little angry actually.

There was a 1989 version of The Woman in Black, where an Arthur Kidd was played by Adrian Rawlins, who played Dan’s father in the Harry Potter series. If ever I get my hands on the novel by Susan Hill, I’ll gobble it up to see if the plot and supporting characters are any stronger, and I’ll let you know what I think.

I’ll give The Woman in Black a solid three out of five stars.

And beware of cymbal-clanging monkeys!

PS: It’s not allowing me to post a pic, but you can see some movie stills here.

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