Hanging on to your movie career is a trial for any child actor, but for Daniel Radcliffe, who is associated not just with youthfulness but with one very specific, well-loved role, it’s going to be an uphill battle. He’s made a good first step with this smart, spooky adaptation of Susan Hill’s bestselling novel – famous also as a long-running West End show – but the sight of Harry Potter with mutton chops and a two-year-old son can still take a spot of getting used to.
Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer who travels to a remote northern village to oversee the sale of Eel Marsh House, a coastal mansion which the locals regard with superstitious suspicion. It’s not long before a series of child deaths lead Kipps to suspect the presence of an otherworldly force: the ghostly Woman in Black.In story terms, there’s little here we’ve not seen in countless haunted-house movies or special BBC dramas for the bank holiday audience. But it’s put together with panache – ‘Eden Lake’ director James Watkins proves himself a master of the short, sharp shock – and a superbly maintained air of clammy dread, thanks in large part to an appropriately murky visual palette.
Radcliffe is solid rather than spectacular, but that serves the film: Kipps is a tight-lipped sort, though it never prevents us from rooting for him. Able support is provided by Ciaran Hinds, whose turn as the local landlord is the most likeable here. Other characters fare less well – the townsfolk are a motley bunch of industry-standard ee-by-gummers – and we’re certainly not encouraged to care about the Woman’s hapless young victims. Like the house itself, ‘The Woman in Black’ is old-fashioned, ornate, imposing, occasionally creaky – and possessed of more than a few enjoyably nasty surprises.