The Woman in White (TV Movie 1997) Poster

(1997 TV Movie)

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Vastly different from the book, but still good
rubyslipper8 May 2003
Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White" is a great read--a creepy and funny mystery novel with multiple narrators, one of which is one of the strongest female characters I've ever come across in Victorian fiction. Unlike some of the other IMDB critics of this film version, though, I read it only after seeing the BBC production. While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, its plot is almost totally different from the novel. It made me wonder if the writers had read two Wilkie Collins novels and decided to combine them, taking the character names from one and the plot twists from the other.

The look of the production is impeccable--gorgeous costumes, lovely English country houses, and a use of light and shadow that perfectly captures the pervasive disquietude. I especially liked that two of the scariest scenes took place in broad daylight, in light-colored places, instead of such customary gothic locales as dark, cobwebby dungeons. The BBC's recent Victorian productions have all striven for an accuracy of period detail (no more beehive hairdos worn with hoopskirt gowns)--that includes dirt and squalor, along with sumptuous furnishings. The Pre-Raphaelite art angle, though not in the book, is neatly tied in, too.

And the acting is excellent. Tara Fitzgerald and Justine Waddell seem to have cornered the market on these period pieces, and Fitzgerald in particular, is perfect as Marion, the steely but loving sister of the soft and sweet Laura. Ian Richardson (the diabolical MP Francis Urquhart in the "House of Cards" trilogy) is brilliant as the girls' hypochondriac uncle, thrown into paroxysms at the sound of loud noises. Simon Callow is Count Fosco, the villain who kills with a caress. He and Marion are worthy opponents; don't miss the scene in the British Museum, when she glares at him over an Egytian sarcophagus and subtly lets him know that she is onto him.

One flaw in the production is the irrelevant voice-over at the beginning and end of the film, but it is not serious enough to mar one's enjoyment of this film.
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Elegant, moody gothic
Oriel1 August 1999
Although I still prefer the 1948 film version, which is more satisfyingly developed (in spite of an ending that comes out of nowhere), this newer version of Wilkie Collins's mystery has a lot to offer. Tara Fitzgerald and Justine Waddell are excellent as the two very different heroines, and Simon Callow is, as always, delightful (if not as deliciously repulsive as Sidney Greenstreet in this role). The mystery, romance and suspense begin to take a moody, even depressing turn in the second half, but this is still, overall, a satisfying film for fans of gothics, visually compelling and more than a little haunting.
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Entertaining enough but lacks subtlety
Kim Harris18 February 2009
This film adaptation is a real missed opportunity. The cast is good and does its best with the screenplay but the subtlety of Collins's novel is largely lost. It is quite possible to see why the format of the original novel would require some structural changes but quite why the makers of the film felt it necessary to change so much in the plot is frankly a mystery.

It feels like they had decided who they wanted to play the parts and changed the story accordingly. Marian Holcombe is portrayed by Collins as having an ugly and masculine face; Tara Fitzgerald has anything but so they changed the character. Why change her name to Marian Fairlie? Sir Percival Glyde is too young and Fosco too thin.

Ah well, it's entertaining enough but like so many adaptations, you will be disappointed if you know the book. Out of curiosity I must now try to find copies of the other adaptations to see how they fare.
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A grand Victorian Gothic adventure, filled with madness, stratagems, love, graves and dark, dark woods
Terrell-44 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"The bad dreams always come back again like unwanted friends," says Marion Fairlie, who with her half-sister, Laura, lives in a vast mid-Victorian country estate. "And last night I found myself in Limmeridge churchyard. Normally, people who are dead stay dead, just as normally it is the criminals who are locked up rather than the victims. But then, there was nothing normal about what happened to us..." And we're off on a first-class Gothic story of madness, deception and villainy, based on Wilkie Collins' great novel of Victorian mystery. It's a good idea to pay close attention, because there are plots within plots, yet they all center on a cunning and ruthless scheme which involves, what else, money, lots of money.

Marion Fairlie (Tara Fitzgerald) and her sister, Laura Fairlie (Justine Wadell) are devoted to each other. Marion is fierce and protective; Laura is softer and much more romantic. Marion has no money of her own; Laura will inherit riches when she comes of age. Marion has no marriage prospects that we know of; Laura has been pledged sometime ago to Sir Percival Glyde (James Wilby), an altogether too charming aristocrat. They are the wards of their uncle, a fussy, condescending, immensely self-centered hypochondriac (Ian Richardson). All seems to be quite routine, but then a young artist, Walter Hartright (Andrew Lincoln), is engaged to teach them drawing and artistic appreciation. And when he arrives at night to the local train station, there is no carriage, so off he sets out on foot to the estate. In the dark woods he encounters a strange woman, dressed all in white, wandering about and speaking of things he does not understand, who then disappears. Are we uneasy? Yes, and so is he and the sisters when they come to realize the strange woman looks much like Laura. Later, does love emerge between Walter and Laura? Does a bud bloom? Is there a misunderstanding that sends Walter away and results in Laura marrying Sir Percival? Does a canker gnaw? And do secrets slowly come to light about the relationships among Laura, Marian and the woman in we learn to be deeply suspicious of Sir Percival's we come to enjoy the style and manners of Sir Percival's close friend, Count Fosco (Simon Callow)...and do we eventually realize the foul depths of depravity, as well as the power of honor and true love, that humanity is capable of? Do we visit Victorian insane asylums, see falls from high towers, dig open graves in the middle of the night and watch retribution arrive amidst the roaring flames of a locked church?

Well, of course, and it's a grand journey for us.

This BBC/Masterpiece Theater program features fine acting and outstanding production values. To fit Collins' 500-plus-page novel into a television show of less than 120 minutes means a good deal had to be cut or abridged, and some changes were made most likely to achieve greater impact in the little time available. Still, taken on its own terms, the production of The Woman in White in my opinion works very well as a moody, romantic, dark television tale. Tara Fitzgerald as Marion gives a commanding performance as a woman determined to protect and then save her sister. James Wilby as Sir Percival manages the clever feat of slowly letting us see the depraved slime beneath the skin, who still has charm amidst the villainy. Ian Richardson as the young women's uncle almost steals the show. He gives such a bossy and pungent performance it almost unbalances the story every time he appears. Perhaps the weakest of the main parts is Simon Callow as Count Fosco. The Count is simply a monster, yet a supremely civilized and charming one. Collins described him as being of immense girth. Callow does a fine, mannered job of it, but to me he lacks a little of the monstrosity of evil.

At one point, Marian tells us, "My sister and I are so fond of Gothic novels, we sometimes act as if we were in them." Little did she know what was in store for herself and Laura.
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thoroughly entertaining
ozcrytic3 October 1999
I didnt know what to expect . I only watched it on a rainy sunday afternoon on pay tv . Right from the start it drew me in . The music and settings and characters were excellent . I hadnt heard of any of the actors but they all were outstanding . A wonderful thriller .

Now that ive read other comments on this movie referring to past versions and the book , i will be endeavouring to find out more on this great movie
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Graves feature largely in this adaptation. Wilkie Collins will surely turn in his!
dad-hunter17 August 2005
Having first read the novel, I don't mind,for the purposes of filming, how differently it is scripted, as long as it adheres to, or at least includes, the plot. For reasons known only to Hollywood, important parts of the story are completely ignored, and a different story line added. The reason this novel passed the test of time, is, no doubt, due to the interweaving of both the characters, and plot, as a whole. To interfere with this structure, is to destroy the intricate balance of the story line, and therefore the intension of the story teller. Although a matter of opinion, the casting of this film leaves a lot to be desired. Characters, described as very fat, should, at least, be made to look portly, to allow for the character to have credibility. The days of slavery can't be over, or surely, actors of this calibre would have been in revolt, at such a travesty of the story. The face of Marian Halcolme is described as being manly in appearance,... Tara Fitzgerald's very feminine appearance doesn't ring true. Again Laura Fairly is described as being 'fair', if not 'ethereal', so, with dark hair, she does not quite fit the impression gleaned from the novel. ....Badly done, Hollywood!

J. Hunter
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An okay story, but definitely not the book.
vallen3022 February 1999
This is supposed to be based on Wilkie Collins' _The_Woman_In_White_, but the only resemblance it bore to that story were the characters' names, the time period, and the settings. If they were going to change the story so thoroughly, I don't understand why they needed to keep up the pretense that it came from Wilkie Collins. Go read the book. It's much better.
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This is NOT a Hollywood production!
sdc1004 January 2006
I have not seen this movie yet, nor have I read the novel. In fact, I have not seen any version of this story, including the recent musical. I have this 1997 DVD though, as well as the London cast recording, both of which were gifts. That having been said, I just want to point out an error in two of the reviews...

I am no fan of Hollywood, usually preferring foreign versions of most movies. Unfortunately, reviewers dad-hunter (j. hunter) from the UK and harrsman5 from Chicago have it wrong. Dad-hunter wrote, "For reasons known only to Hollywood" and ends his review with, "Badly done, Hollywood!" Harrsman5 asked, "I wondered how badly Hollywood could screw this up," and said that the movie makers "Hollywoodized" the story.

This was a British production, not a Hollywood project. This is clear from the credits, as well as the description. It is a co-production for the BBC by Carlton International Media, Ltd and WGBH. Carlton and the BBC are in the UK, and WGBH, a PBS affiliate, can hardly be considered Hollywood. While harrsman5 may be confused by seeing it on Masterpiece Theater here in the US, I was very surprised by dad-hunter's comments since s/he is from the UK.

As for critics who chastise it for not being faithful to the novel, I think it's better to rate the movie on its own merits. Many of us have never read the novel, nor plan to. When I finally view it, I will judge it based on the movie alone..
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One of the greatest thrillers ever compressed into a TV film without failure.
clanciai23 September 2017
This is one of those great novels that cannot be corrupted by the screening of it, no matter how much you alter in the book to fit it into a picture, as the plot itself, the skeleton of the story, is unavoidable and carries it all no matter what you cut out of the flesh or add to it. Tara Fitzgerald and Andrew Lincoln as the main characters are convincing enough, although different from the book, while Simon Callow as Count Fosco, although his appearance is brief in comparison with the book, gets the place in the sun as the central hub of intrigue, one of the most classical and irresistible villains in literature.

But the main asset of this TV film version is the quiet mood and the excellent composition of the pictures - many scenes are just like Victorian paintings, and a painting actually is made to play almost like a red thread through the film.

The finale, although completely different from the book, makes the film dramatic enough though, and the only thing you really lack in this film version is the high intensity of the book building up a tension that makes the finale triumphant in its karmic justice.

They say the 1982 version is better. It is to be noted that Ian Richardson plays in both versions. It will be interesting to find it somewhere.
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Falls short
begob25 June 2017
A wealthy Victorian bride and her half-sister become the victims of an abusive marriage, and their only salvation lies in uncovering a mystery from the family's past ...

Brave attempt to cover a complex story in a relatively short run time. Some of the adaptations work very well to fold events and characters into a streamlined plot, but others take too many liberties. The main drawback is that the malevolent Count Fosco is reduced to a few scenes of haughty guffawing, and his back-story is completely erased. This does improve in some ways on the 1982 TV series, with some conviction added to the dialogue, but can't really compete.

The writer has beefed up the roles of the half-sister and the lover, and the actress gives a strong performance. Sadly, in spite of all the streamlining, the end has to rely too much on exposition to lead us out of the labyrinth.

Overall: Well produced but bit off more than it could chew.
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While the 1982 adaptation is the far superior version, this is better than it's given credit for
TheLittleSongbird11 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Judging from the vehement hate this version of The Woman in White has gotten on Amazon, seeing as the book is a masterpiece and how outstanding the 1982 version with Diana Quick was, I was expecting this adaptation to be bad. After seeing it, it is better than it's given credit for though the 1982 version is far better, which was very faithful, was more consistently acted and had a perfect length and pace. Those who say that as an adaptation the 1997 version is very unfaithful are right with some names changed, physical appearances not matching and Glyde's real motivation for persecuting Anne not making much sense here. However adaptations do deserve to be judged on their own, and on its own while very flawed the 1997 version is not that bad. The book is big and its complexity is difficult to adapt, so the attempt is at least laudable.

It could have done with being longer(125 minutes is not enough I don't think) and could have slowed down, that way the story and characters would have had more complexity and intricacy. The voice over agreed was not needed and added nothing, and not all the casting works, both due most likely to their roles being half-realised/developed. James Wilby was rather dull and not oily enough for Sir Percival Glyde, he is charming and aristocratic, which is just one part of his character, but from personal perspective he never believed as a main villain/criminal. And Simon Callow- also suffering from the worst of mismatched physical appearances, too thin- is too mannered and civilised for Fosco, quite possibly one of literature's most interesting villains, the intelligence is there, the evil doesn't register, at least to me.

However, it is a beautifully made adaptation. The scenery, sets and locations looking splendid, there is an eeriness but also like a postcard-come-to-life quality and make-up, costumes and hair that looks authentic. The photography is seamlessly composed, like looking at a painting. The music score is an underrated one, it was only mentioned in like 3 or 4(out of 58) reviews on Amazon, it is very magnetic and has an eerily haunting quality that matches the tone adeptly. The dialogue does have flow, sounds very intelligent and thoughtful and makes an effort to make the characters believable(especially Marian, Madame Fosco and Farlie). The story is not as intricate- there could have been more of a danger if the villains convinced and were developed more- but still has that Gothic touch, is fun and tense and the romantic angle is tender.

So while it loses the book's complexity and doesn't make as much sense there is evidence of good, solid storytelling. The British Museum scene is tense in a subtle way and through body language too, and the climax is chillingly hair-rising. Most of the cast do work. Tara Fitzgerald commands the screen brilliantly, bringing out Marian's strong-willed and passionate qualities. Justine Waddell is a softer, more trusting and sympathetic contrast as Laura, almost fairy-like, and Susan Vidler is a touchingly vivid Anne even with some of her lines being on the deadpan side. Kika Martin's Madame Fosco is harrowing and Adie Allen in a role that even when condensed has shades of Rebecca's Mrs Danvers has the right sinister touch. And Ian Richardson, who was one of the high points of the earlier adaptation of The Woman in White, gives an interpretation of Mr Fairlie that has actually grown while keeping the essence of the character. He is every bit the nervous wreck but also appropriately condescending and self-centred with a touch of humour.

Overall, for a better version adaptation-wise, it's best to watch the 1982 version, judging it on its own it is decent and is not wholly deserving of the vitriol it's gotten. 6.5/10 Bethany Cox
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What A Piece of Trash!
harrsman513 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
After reading the decent and captivating Wilkie Collins novel, The Woman in White, I wondered how badly Hollywood could screw this up. Well, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a more horrible movie. The people who wrote the script clearly did not read the book, as they took a bunch of the major events, and instead of developing them, they Hollywoodized them. How else can you explain Anne Catherick throwing herself off a tower instead of allowing Percival and Fosco to enact their famous plot. And after the movie builds up Percival's secret, presumably leading to a shocking climax, they merely gloss over the secret and create a worthless final battle between Marian and Percival, which is comical at best. I have seen lots of bad films in my life, but never have I seen a film try so hard to be good, yet fall so incredibly on its face. This movie has no redeeming qualities!
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Worse than I remembered
paultait3624 September 2010
I watched this a few years ago and then again today. I had forgotten quite how badly it butchers Collins' story. Some of the omissions (e.g. some important characters simply fail to appear) might be justified on length grounds but some of the changes seem entirely pointless - why do Laura and Marian (Collins' spelling, by the way) share their father instead of their mother? Why does Walter meet the Woman in White near Limmeridge instead of near London? And many, many more. The reason I watched it today was to compare it with the 1982 TV serialisation which I have just acquired on DVD and which is virtually 100% faithful to the book and much more worth watching. The only enjoyable feature of the 1997 version was seeing Ian Richardsom reprise his role as Mr Fairlie.
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