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The Woman in White

Critique Quotes At the movies

1948, 1982

First one-volume edition, 18711889 yellowback edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
18591860, serialized in magazines All the Year Round and Harper's Weekly

First book publication

Literary form

Literary, mystery

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 247,000 words

Woman in White scene
Count Fosco (Alan Badel) creeps out Marian Halcombe (Diana Quick) in the 1982 miniseries.

Dark designs, bright hopes

The Woman in White (1982): Television miniseries, five episodes, 275 minutes; director John Bruce; writer Ray Jenkins; featuring Diana Quick, Daniel Gerroll, Jenny Seagrove, Alan Badel, John Shrapnel, Deirdra Morris, Ian Richardson

Although it's now showing its age somewhat, the BBC miniseries of 1982 stands as a favourite adaptation of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White.

It's also practically a master class in how to compress a six hundred-page novel into a five-hour television series without noticeable damage to its complex plot or main characters.

Morris and Seagrove compared
The mysterious woman in white and Laura Fairley played by
different actresses.

This is also one of the few productions to use separate actors, Jenny Seagrove and Deirdra Morris respectively, for the persecuted Laura Fairlie and the mysterious Anne Catherick (the "woman in white"). Most adaptations have one actress doing double duty. These two though look enough alike to credibly confuse some but not all other characters, as they should. The partial similarity also serves certain revelations near the end.

As always in The Woman in White, the most admirable character is Laura's devoted half-sister Marian. Played by Diana Quick (Brideshead Revisited), she's supposed to be unattractive. Laura refers to her "gypsy face" and the actress is made up to appear swarthy. But Marian's intelligence, her strength and her assistance in resolving the story's mysteries make her one of the most appealing characters.

She is also, at least in this production, the chief purveyor of the story's message of women's rights.

As in the original novel, it's a unfathomable that the ever-hopeful Walter (Daniel Gerroll), the detecting hero of the piece, is drawn not to this fascinating woman, his partner in intrigue, but to the passive, vapid Laura.

But the biggest scene stealer is Count Fosco, a creepily pleasant and deeply devious character. Prolific British stage and screen actor Alan Badel turns in a brilliantly eccentric performance. One of his final appearances, it was first shown a month after he died.

If I have any criticism of this film, it may be that it's so sunny. The Woman in White is a novel of dark mystery, of greed, suspense and evil designs. This is all in the miniseries as well but it's bathed in optimistically warm light and subdued sound.

Still the dialogue and action move along quickly and entertainingly, always leaving the viewer slightly off balance, awaiting the next twist, until the final scene.

— Eric


Critique Quotes At the movies

1948, 1982