Thursday, February 23, 2012

harry potter, all growed up

Daniel Radcliffe has had a creative life outside of Harry Potter — stage runs in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and a nice small part in the British television movie My Boy Jack. His name appears above the title of his latest film, The Woman in Black, and he is in almost every frame of this spooky, creepy horror film.

Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is not alone in Eel Marsh House
Radcliffe's face fills the screen, and he is impressive as Arthur Kipps, a grief-stricken young widower who is sent to conclude the affairs of an Alice Drablow, who owned Eel Marsh House — an isolated estate in northern England. This job is also his last-ditch attempt to keep his postion at his current employer's, which has been made precarious by his extended grieving. Kipps is haunted by the death in childbirth of his beautiful young wife. Before he even sets foot in the village of Cryffin Gifford, death surrounds him. He even sees her, in her wedding dress from time to time. For him, she is the woman in white.

Kipps quickly makes friends with Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), the most prosperous man in the area. Daily and his wife Elizabeth (Janet McTeer), like many families in the village, have lost a child, a son. His wife, who seems to be at times psychic and at others disturbed, is convinced that the Woman in Black, once she is seen, means harm to all children.

Kipps spends a great deal of the film exploring the house, trying to find out more about a woman that everyone fears but no one wants to seem to talk about. He is quite brave, at times foolhardy, in his desire to find out what that noise is on the other side of a locked door. But he is interested in séances, promoted in newspaper advertisements by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and may be less spooked by the Woman in Black and more hopeful that he might catch another glimpse of his wife. He also has a young son to care for, and desperately wants to succeed in this task for his firm and retain his postion.

Kipps with Mrs. Dailey (Janet McTeer)
The Woman in Black is a Hammer film. It had the biggest opening in the history of Hammer films, and is the latest release from the revamped classic horror film company (Let Me In was released in 2010).

Based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill, this is a truly creepy film, the scares and atmosphere setting the tone, rather than relying on gore. It's more along the lines of The UninvitedThe Innocents or The Others. The film deviates quite a bit from the book. There are added elements that are quite well-suited to the visuals of a film, and some changes to the plot that fans of the book may find annoying or confusing (it's a shame Daily's dog Spider, who was quite an important element of the book, is relegated to the background in the film). But it moves well. The old-fashioned ghost story nature of the novel, was sometimes seemed just that, old-fashioned. In the film the classic ghost story elements — haunted house, cobwebs, peeling wallpaper, creepy antique dolls — merely seem suited to the gothic atmosphere. Starring along with Radcliffe is the set design and setting of the film. The haunted nursery, the backyard graveyard, the depressed village, the Mont St. Michel-like tidal island and causeway — it's a great-looking film.

Daniel Radcliffe has proved with The Woman in Black that he can carry a film, as an actor, not just a familiar and beloved character. He is convincing as an adult and in period garb. Although Harry Potter was set in the present day, it had more than a touch of Dickensian London in its milieu of wizards and monsters. Most of Radcliffe's projects seem to be set in the past. In his next film he will play Allan Ginsberg, in a story that takes place in 1944. It would be nice to see Radcliffe in something really contemporary. Maybe something by Nick Hornby? Or a comedy? He's definitely graduated from Hogwarts, and I am looking forward to seeing what he tries next.

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