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The Woman in Black

Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

Reputed to be one of the most frightening ghost stories ever written, Susan Hill's 1983 novel "The Woman in Black" must certainly count as one of the sturdiest: It has been adapted both for British radio and U.K. television, while the 22-year-long—and still ongoing—run of its London stage version makes that property one of the longest-lived nonmusicals in West End history.

As penned for the big screen by Jane Goldman, directed by James Watkins—and with Daniel Radcliffe headlining as barrister Arthur Kipps—the latest iteration of "The Woman in Black" (CBS) aims for a classic horror feel.

And well it might. Hill's premise, after all, offers us a remote mansion haunted by a malevolent, avenging specter.

While we're second to none in our appreciation of Gothic chillfests in which spooky creatures pop into the frame, peer out of windows or—better still—are seen in shadowy form down a hallway, this entry has a queasy and troubling feature that renders it unsettling in all the wrong ways. Not only do the proceedings include a high body count, the casualties in question are children lured to suicide by the ghost of the title.

Film being such a literal medium, one image of this kind would be problematic enough. Here they go on multiplying right up to the end.

Jennet (Liz White), the ghost of the title, doesn't kill anyone directly—she entrances them to their deaths. Her motive? Deemed mentally ill in life, Jennet had her son taken away from her to be raised by another couple. He later drowned in the body of water from which our eerie manse, Eel Marsh House, takes its uninviting name.

Ramping up the pathos, Kipps is shown to be a grieving widower with a 4-year-old son (Misha Handley). And he's in trouble: Successfully settling the affairs of Eel Marsh House represents Kipps' one chance to hang onto his job.

But with her rage reaching out from beyond the grave, Jennet, it seems, will keep on killing the children of the nearby Yorkshire village unless someone finds a way to appease her.

The fearless Kipps—one does think of Harry Potter here—finds help from Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a villager who is himself in mourning. Daily possesses religious faith of a sort, telling Kipps, "When we die, we go up there. We don't stay down here."

In that connection, some Catholic imagery—such as Daily blessing himself and the use of a rosary -- has been tossed in. But not, it would appear, for any deeper purpose than added visual effect.

The film contains numerous scenes of suicide by children and occasional gore. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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