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The Woman in Black - Jane Goldman interview

The Woman in Black

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JANE Goldman discusses some of the challenges of adapting Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black for the big screen and talks about her career to date and why she’s thrilled to be as busy as she is.

Q. What was your earliest connection to this story? Was it the stage play or Susan Hill’s book?
Jane Goldman: I think I first saw the stage play when I was quite young and then immediately afterwards was very keen to read the book and read it. And then I’ve seen the stage play subsequently with my children and all of that. So, as soon as Hammer approached me and offered me the opportunity to adapt it, I didn’t need more than a couple of seconds to think about it. I was very excited, especially the idea of adapting the book. It really appealed because in a way the stage play is so… it’s certainly true to the spirit of the book but it’s adapted so much for the theatre. So, I thought the film would be ground that hadn’t been well-trodden and I could try and stay true to the spirit of the book but tell the story with the language of cinema in the same way that the stage adaptation so uses the stage to its full advantage.

Q. Were you a Hammer fan growing up?
Jane Goldman: Yeah, I think it’s a part of everybody’s childhood isn’t it really. I mean there are some wonderful Hammer movies and there are some dreadful ones but, of course, it’s very exciting to be a part of that history. Weirdly, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde was on the horror channel last night and that’s an extraordinary piece of work [laughs].

Q. How did you go about constructing the scares for the screenplay?
Jane Goldman: I think the rhythm of film is slightly different [from the novel] but otherwise it’s exactly the same thing as Susan [Hill] has said, it’s about pacing and it’s about building the tension. So, if there were little embellishments to be added I’d try to draw on things that had genuinely scared me rather than being too technical about it. So, actually just thinking… I’m really quite hard to scare as well, so it’s really about mining times when I had jumped – not in a people sneaking up behind you and saying ‘boo’ kind of way, but in what things had creeped me out.

Q. Do you think there’s a fatigue with gore? Do people want something more cerebral from their horror now?
Jane Goldman: I don’t have a fatigue for it. I love splatter and gore horror! But I know what I miss as a cinema-goer is that balance of films that actually scare me. They’re so few and far between. I love ghost stories, I love horror stories, I love all of that stuff, but I really yearn for something to actually frighten me. And so I think it’s more of a yearning for that than necessarily something cerebral and sophisticated. So, it’s good story-telling and something that actually frightens you.

Q. So, what has frightened you?
Jane Goldman: Oh, they’re all quite random and few and far between. Jacob’s Ladder was frightening… parts of The Shining. The Vanishing. Exorcist III oddly! There’s one very specific shot… the long shot down the corridor in the hospital is incredible. I’m quite fussy though. But that’s one of the things that excited me so much about this was seeing the potential to do that.

Q. Has the screenwriting career become better than you could ever have imagined?
Jane Goldman: Yes! I don’t know, it wasn’t really a conscious thing. I just sort of take life as it comes really but I’ve had a wonderful five or six years and have really been enjoying the work I’ve been offered. Yeah, I feel very grateful to be able to do a job that I love.

Q. Can you give us a bit of an update on some of the other things you’re up to?
Jane Goldman: Actually, I’m working on two different American studio projects now, neither of which have been really officially announced yet. We’re sort of talked about one but the other hasn’t… so, unfortunately I don’t have anything to properly report.

Q. Is the first one the Tim Burton thing?
Jane Goldman: Yeah. It’s one of them.

Q. Will you be writing for Johnny Depp?
Jane Goldman: Actually, I’m not sure if there’s an ideal role in there… surely there should be!

Q. Are you working on any sequels by any chance?
Jane Goldman: I’ve been asked recently about Kick-Ass 2 and all my quotes are online on that! But X-Men… yeah, I probably can’t say anything about that either but there will definitely be one. So…

Q. That sounds like you’re involved…
Jane Goldman: [Laughs] Simon Kimberg’s writing a draft right now…

Read our review of The Woman in Black