It can be hard for actors to move on after starring in a long-running and successful franchise. While Viggo Mortensen and Harrison Ford became stars after Lord of the Rings and Star Wars respectively, some of their co-stars, like Billy Boyd or Mark Hamill, struggle to enjoy the same kind of success afterwards.
Now Daniel Radcliffe finds himself getting ready to move on. After the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter franchise, it’s time for the leading man to find new projects. He has already taken to the stage to star in productions of Equus and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and now takes the lead in his first post-Potter movie, an adaptation of The Woman In Black. The Woman In Black was first a novel, written by Susan Hill in 1983, and has previously been adapted into a television film, and a play, which has been running since 1989. Now it has been adapted as a movie by Jane Goldman, who has previously co-written Stardust, Kick Ass and X-Men: First Class, but this is the first movie where she has the sole writing credit.
Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor who is under pressure to keep his job. This is because of the death of his wife, who died during childbirth. Arthur has a son to support, and is told that he must travel from London to Eel Marsh in order to handle the estate of the late Alice Drablow. He is made to feel less than welcome by the locals, with the exception of Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), who appears to be less superstitious, and suspicious, than other residents. The locals want him to leave, but Arthur is determined to do his job, and goes to Eel Marsh house to work through Drablow’s papers.
He learns about the woman in black, whom the locals believe makes children commit suicide. As he spends more time in the house, he has supernatural experiences, hearing noises and seeing faces, while events around the town see the locals turn against him even more.
Radcliffe gives a credible performance as Arthur Kipps, and although he spends a lot of time saying very little, he is able to convincingly portray a man becoming increasingly confused and scared by what is happening around him. At 22 he is perhaps a little young to be playing a father, but his relationship with his son is not a big part of the movie. Ciaran Hinds is the only other actor in the film that has a lot to do, with Sam being the only person in the town who seems sympathetic to Arthur’s position, and he also gives a good performance.
But The Woman In Black is a ghost story, and as a result, it relies on its scares and creepiness to make it a success. Director James Watkins has previous experience of cranking up the scare factor, having written and directed Eden Lake. The film is a Hammer production, but the scares in The Woman In Black seem to have more in common with recent Asian horror movies such as Ring and The Grudge than it does with more traditional Hammer movies from the past. Hammer movies were notorious for their blood and gore, but this film is more about the kind of terror that comes from unexpected sounds, objects moving or coming to life seemingly by themselves and the sudden appearance of ghostly figures.
Subtle changes were apparently made to the first cut of the movie, allowing the producers to secure a 12A rating, but there are enough scares in the movie to make it unsuitable for younger children. Most of them come inside the house, with Radcliffe alone and exploring the house and the secrets it holds. The way the movie ends also has parallels with the previously mentioned Asian horror movies, but the story is fairly well rounded off before the credits roll.
Despite the rating, The Woman In Black is a solid, definitively adult, movie for Daniel Radcliffe to begin his post-Potter career with. He seems more than capable of making a long career for himself in movies, having already shown he is able to be a strong leading man. He’ll always be Harry Potter, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be remembered for a lot more than that series.