The Woman in Black: Play vs. Film

In a previous post, I mentioned my excitement to see The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, because only months before I had gotten to see the play version. Weirdly enough, when I went to see the play, I had not even realized that a film version was due out in February of this year. So instead of a regular review, I’ll be pitting the two formats of the story of “The Woman in Black” against one another. Be aware that there are SPOILERS, so if you do not want something spoiled for you, I recommend either seeing the film first, or reading about the play only.

Number of Characters

In the play, there is a total of 4 characters. Each actor plays a character, who then, in turn, act out a play within the play as two other separate characters. This sounds confusing, but watching it wasn’t difficult. I couldn’t imagine how harrowing it must have been for the two actors on stage to have to memorize so many lines!

In the film, there are multiple characters. While Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) leads the film, often playing scenes against sound and special effects in the house, a supporting cast plays a bigger role in the film version.

The Element of Time

The play serves time in two parts: in the beginning, there’s an older fellow seeking public speaking assistance from a young actor. The old man is Arthur, and the story he wishes to tell is the story we see in the film. Essentially, we get a play within a play. The actor plays young Arthur back in time, and the older, current Arthur plays the rest of the supporting characters.

The film is told in real time. From the get-go, a crisis emerges, forcing Arthur to travel and locate all the necessary documents of a passed client named Alice Drablow in the town Crythin Gifford, where the people aren’t exactly welcoming.

The Rocking Chair

The rocking chair plays a large role in both the play and the film. Less information regarding the chair is given in the play, however. We see it in the play, we hear the terrible creaking noise throughout the play, and we know it’s located in the locked room that Arthur finds himself wanting to get into while he stays in the house.

The film builds on the story of the rocking chair. In film format, more allowances are given – we receive more background information by watching and listening. While the play offers viewers the same opportunities, the format is more limited in what it can show us, given that there’s fewer special effects. We learn in the film that the rocking chair served a big purpose in helping the woman in black commit suicide, by her standing on it in order to hang herself. Perhaps the chair creaks because her dead body fell on the chair when she hung herself. The film also includes far more items in the room, such as moving toys and a cymbal-playing monkey that reminded me of the one in the Phantom of the Opera.

Arthur

My comparison of the Arthur in the play from the one in the film moves into more subjective territory. The Arthur character painted in the play was far more fearful and reluctant than the one in the film. He was constantly on edge. Even as the actor who played young Arthur from the past, there was this great portrayal of fear that worked effectively to insert fear into viewers’ minds.

The Arthur in the film appeared less phased by the events happening. He seemed to have a greater confidence and desire to end the madness caused by the woman in black. He was more determined to meet the woman in black head on, rather than reluctantly face the cause of the noises in the house.

The Ending

If you haven’t realized already, this post is filled with SPOILERS. So if you haven’t seen the film, I’d recommend reading only what happens in the play and not the film, because the ending is incredibly different in the two formats. Since the play is really a play within a play, the woman in black seems to make appearances in both times. As viewers, we learn of her from the play within the play, but we notice that the actor (who is playing young Arthur) is recognizing her in real time – and making this idea evident to the older Arthur, who seems to wave him off (ironic?). In the end, we learn the woman in black is still around, because the final line of the play has the actor asking Arthur who the lady is that keeps lurking in the shadows.

The film offers an entirely different ending. Arthur has witnessed several children killed at the hand of the woman in black. The story goes that she kills children because according to the paperwork left behind, her own child died out in the marshes and his body was never recovered. She seems to seek to be reunited with her son, but she rather kill everyone else’s children to avenge his death. Arthur believes he has ended the woman in black’s curse by uncovering her dead son’s body and placing it on her bed, joining mother and son together. His four-year-old son has just arrived to meet Arthur in the city of Crythin Gifford, where the woman in black’s home resides. Arthur has decided that everything is finally over, so he and his son decide to take the next train home. But while Arthur is talking with someone, his son seems to have run off and is now walking in the train tracks while an incoming train is headed toward him. Arthur realizes it and suddenly jumps into the track to retrieve his son – and the train goes bustling into them. We’re not sure whether they made it out alive or not. We think they might have–and the film does a nice one over on us–until we realize that both father and son are dead. Need reassurance? Out from the back emerges the woman in black.

All that to say that the play’s ending is vastly different from the film’s ending: real time would not be plausible in its scenario if Arthur had died when he was young.

The strength of the story of “The Woman in Black,” I believe lies in the woman’s character. She remains the same in both formats. She never speaks, but she appears mysteriously throughout both. She’s very creepy, and she acts sort of like an angel of death, especially in the film.

Which do I prefer? I enjoyed both. They’re both incredibly different from one another, that I wouldn’t want to choose. They both work effectively in their own formats, and I enjoyed both for different reasons. I enjoyed all of the background information the film offered regarding the woman in black, but I appreciated how the play ended more than the film. Both seemed to suffer from a slightly laborious and long beginning, as mentioned in Dan the Man’s review on the film. I’d equally recommend both for viewing. I know there’s also a book (written by Susan Hill) on which the play was based off that shares similarities and differences with the play and the film.

Did you enjoy the film? What do you think of the differences? Would you have preferred the ending from the play or the film better?

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11 thoughts on “The Woman in Black: Play vs. Film

  1. I saw the play in London in 1989–it scared me to death! I absolutely LOVED it! It remains one of my favorite plays to this day! Just saw the movie. VERY different than the play. However, I enjoyed it immensely. Mostly due to Daniel Radcliffe. Outstanding performance. I still think the play is much more terrifying; but both are interesting and juicy stories. I would see either, over and over. Bravo!

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    • Wow, you saw it quite a while ago then! Glad you enjoyed it so much. I thought the play was brilliant as well, and quite entertaining to watch on stage. I would agree that the play is more terrifying, but the film had more paranoia, spooky moments in my opinion. I really enjoyed both, and am glad to hear another fellow fan did too!

      Thanks for visiting All Eyes on Screen, Amy!

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  2. I’ve heard the play is phenomenal and I really want to see it. But I’m betting I’ll be seeing the film first then the play. Nice comparison, though I tried to hide from some of the spoilers!

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    • I really enjoyed it! i would definitely recommend seeing it, even after the film. Haha, I hope it wasn’t too difficult. The film and play are SO different, that you’re almost getting two different stories with the same characters. You would think this would be frustrating, but it’s actually really cool (at least I think so!). When you see the film AND the play eventually, you’ll have to let me know what you thought of it!

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  3. I have seen the play, the film and read the book. The play, easily, was my favourite and left me feeling the most terrified! The ending is devastatingly brilliant, the staging is incredibly clever but simple. The book comes in at second, a read that leaves you haunted by the last few lines. The film, although good, used more obvious fear which i felt was not why i was originally so scared by the woman in black fanchise. The fact that they are making a second film The Woman in Black – Angel of Death – did worry me. However, as Susan Hill is said to be heavily involved with the script writing, I hope it will not become overdone like the Lion King series (1, 1and a half, 2, 3 apparently!). Despite this, I am glad i saw all versions as it shows how a rather complex story can be adapted in such different ways.

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  4. I saw the play in 1993 in London, when part of the audience was a group of young Theatre Arts students, who were mesmerized (as was I) and terrified during many moments of the play. One actually forgot he/she was watching a play, and felt part of the action. The experience could Never be duplicated in a film, since the feeling of actually participating was so vivid and necessary. Though the film was beautifully produced, filmed, and acted,….I was Never caught up in it,…and was sorry it was ever attempted.

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  5. I saw the play in February then about 2 weeks later the film. I saw the film as part of a Performing Arts trip with my school and it was honestly of the greatest plays I have ever scene, the atmosphere was so gripping and I felt such a part of the performance the actors were brilliant and we took part in a Q&A with them afterwards and it left me spooked for quite a while afterwards. I really enjoyed the film as well Daniel Radcliffe was surprisingly convincing as a father as such a young actor and the scares were equally as thrilling at times. However I would have to say my favourite was the play.

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    • I can definitely understand that! The play is powerful. I enjoyed the movie as well, but I, too, prefer the play.

      And I agree — Daniel Radcliffe was great in the role!

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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