The Woman In White (1997) is an adaptation of a Wilkie Collins Victorian mystery I have watched a couple times and enjoyed each time. But I have debated doing a review of this film because it is/has been a fairly popular period drama that many people have already seen. So in this review I want to particularly address why I've put an asterick next to it on the "Old-Fashioned Films" page marking it has having an objectionable themes or scenes. I want to point out the good points, bad points and whether to see or not see.
Synopsis: The story of two sisters so unalike but so completely devoted to each other. Marian Fairlie, the older sister, is a bold modern woman, with a skeptical view of life. She is protective of her younger sister Laura who is sweet, naive and trusting. Their story begins when their uncle highers young Mr. Hartright to teach them art. Mr. Hartright is enchanted by Laura and befriends both girls until the startling testimony of a servant girl casts a shadow on his character and he is dismissed. Thus begins a series of strange events which continues with the strange babblings of "the woman in white", the half-crazed forest wanderer Anne Catherick. Laura soon marries young Sir Percival Glide, a man Marian worries is only after her money. Marian spends a long visit her sister and brother-in-law where she also meets Count Fosco. There she begins to see the depths of evil she has feared, danger not primarily of body but of the mind. Can she keep her sister and her fortune safe and find out the mystery behind Anne Catherick's past? She'll have to stoop to underhanded inquiries and accept help from an old friend before the wrong is righted. - Laurie M.
The Good: In this film the lines of good and evil are clearly drawn, especially in the end. The bad are punished and the good are rewarded. Though evil threatens to prevail many times, good will ultimately win the day.
The sisterly devotion between Marian and Laura is very touching. Laura herself is the sweetest girl you'd every want to meet and it's hard to see bad things come her way. Marian turns out to be the heroine of sorts, and her devotion to her sister and to finding out the truth is commendable. A sweet love story also develops during the film which adds a lovely ending, but the couple must go through many hardships before they're allowed to be happy at last.
The Bad: Anne Catherick is the "woman in white" and her story is a very sad one. Laura's life is also full of misery after she marries, and though none of the abuse and manipulation is shown it is mentioned and bruises are shown. No violence is ever shown on screen and threats are not physical but more of a mental vein. The suspense in the film reminds me of an Alfred Hitchcock film - you don't need blood and gore to make a film suspenseful and scary! There is a scene toward the end of the film that is very scary, but it turns out that the bad guy gets what he deserves. Marian does quite a bit of hiding and creeping about, and she also has to do some underhanded things (such as threatening a doctor with scandal) to find out the truth. I wouldn't recommend this film for viewers under 16 years of age, simply for the themes of abuse and suspense that run through the film.
Sets and costumes are all lovely! Music is very fitting for the story and ambiance. Acting is exceptional, just what one would expect from a BBC period drama. There are many recognizable faces. Here are just a few and a bit about the characters they portray:
- Tara Fitzgerald as Marian Fairlie - Marian is a strong personality and a loving older sister. Actress Tara Fitzgerald seems to have spent much time in period dramas many of which I haven't seen. Films I have seen her in and enjoyed: The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, Mrs. Reed in Jane Eyre (2006), and Marple: The Body In The Library, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. Her performance in The Woman in White is similar to the character she plays in The Tennant of Wildfell Hall but she does a marvelous job as always.
- Justine Waddell as Laura Fairlie - A timid and shy young lady who is all sweetness and quick to form affections. Ms Waddell's performance is excellent as always and she totally makes this film for me. The beauty and sweetness she portrays throughout the film really balances the evil. This is though a completely different role from my favorite role of her's Molly Gibson in Wives and Daughters. Her other period roles include: Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998), Estella in Great Expectations (1999), Julia Bertram in Mansfield Park (1999), Millie in The Moth (which is a similar character to Anne Catherick, this film is adapted from a Catherine Cookson novel and I do NOT recommend any of them, cheep romance novels the lot!)
- Andrew Lincoln as Mr. Harding - The sister's art tutor who falls in love with Laura. He's an all-around nice guy and I wish he had even more screen time then he does. Sadly actor Lincoln has been in only one other period role that I recognize Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights (2009), a film which I just couldn't watch all the way through. (Have I ever told you how much I dislike that story?)
- James Wilby as Sir Percival Glyde - A throughly rotten character from beginning to end, Sir Percival is Laura's husband. After viewing actor James Wilby in this role I was a bit surprised to find out that I had seen him as Bertie (King George VI) in Bertie and Elizabeth because he was completely delightful in that film! His other period films include: Gosford Park (not for children), Sherlock Holmes: The Crooked Man, Marple: The Sittaford Mystery, Poirot: Third Girl, George Eliot: A Scandalous Life (documentary). Very interesting!
- Simon Callow as Count Fosco - A seemingly pleasant foreigner on the surface, Count Fosco is actually a very dangerous man. I remember reading on Wikipedia about the book and how he was quite like a Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes's nemesis) character, one of the most evil villains ever created. Actor Simon Callow is a veteran actor and does a spectacular job at making this character believable. The actor's other period films I've seen him in include: The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Marple: The Body In The Library, Hans Christian Andersen: My Life As A Fairytale as Charles Dickens. And he reprised his role of Charles Dickens in The Mystery of Charles Dickens (TV documentary) and An Audience With Charles Dickens (which I saw as an extra on The Pickwick Papers DVD, it's a half hour film of the great author reading a famous scene from the book).
- As a side note of great interest to this Hercule Poirot fan I found that Kika Markham the actress who portrayed the short role of Madame Fosco in this film also played "the woman" Countess Vera Russakoff in Poirot: The Double Clue. The countess is to Poirot what Irene Adler is to Sherlock Holmes - the woman criminal who almost outwits the brilliant detective. This actress also has a short role in The Forsyte Saga.
I recently made this YouTube video with music and photos from The Woman In White. The music is lovely in a bittersweet sort of way!
My Recommendation: I greatly enjoyed Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone and expected something similar to that story when I was first watching The Woman In White. While this is a very well done story and I do highly recommend it, I would say watch with caution. As stated above, because of themes of abuse and the great suspense in the film, I would recommend this to only viewers aged 16 and up. My sister is 14 and I would not recommend this for her even though she has seen murder mystery. While violence and physical abuse are never shown on scene those themes strongly underlie the mystery surrounding Anne Catherick and the treatment of Laura by her husband.
All in all it is a lovely film and not to be missed! There are many things in it's favor, even just good old-fashioned story telling. Lots of old-fashioned charm!
If you've seen The Woman In White or read the book I'd love to hear your opinions! Comments and questions are always welcome!
Very Truly Your's,