TV review: The Woman in White, BBC One
- Brian Donaldson
- 19 April 2018
Pacy yet subtle and evocatively faithful adaptation of Wilkie Collins' beloved psycho-thriller
After the disappointment of the BBC's 2016 daytime adaptation of The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins' aficionados may have shivered with fear over news that the corporation was now having a go at The Woman in White. While The Moonstone was viewed as the world's first detective story, The Woman in White laid down its own marker as one of the first psychological thrillers, regularly reaching the higher echelons of those 'best novels of all time' polls you get nowadays.
Thankfully, any reservations can be set aside as this five-parter is a classy and atmospheric affair which will have Wilkie resting quietly in his grave. Writer Fiona Seres and director Carl Tibbetts have worked hard to be faithful to the book's spooky mid-19th century spirit while dragging it into this contemporary watershed of Time's Up / Me Too, with the brutality of men being denounced in the series' opening flashback scene.
Having encountered a spectral woman (dressed in white) on Hampstead Heath, drawing tutor Walter Hartright (Ben Hardy) leaves London to take up a teaching post in a Cumbria village where he is assigned by the permanently unhealthy Frederick Fairlie (Charles Dance). There, he learns of a curious connection between his pupils – the wispish white-clad Laura Fairlie (Olivia Vinall) and a tomboyish billiard-playing breeches-wearing Marian Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) – and the troubled lady he met on the heath.
Disastrously, Walter and Laura fall for each other and he is sent packing when her creepily betrothed Sir Percival Glyde (a thunderously moustachioed Dougray Scott) arrives at the baronial pile. Glyde seems almost too sleazy for words, but his awfulness appears to be cemented by the suspicion that he had the original woman in white cruelly placed in an asylum.
While the opening episode rattles headfirst into the heart of Collins' story, leaving you little time to take a breath, the second hour opens up the tale's mysteries more subtly. The viewer is then left with little choice but to carry on and see if justice is served for the crimes alluded to from the very start. As Marian pleads in her opening salvo, 'how is it that men crush women time and time again and go unpunished?'
Episodes watched: one and two of five.
The Woman in White starts on BBC One, Sun 22 Apr, 9pm.