“It’s a classic ghost story with one of the best filmed jumps ever,” sums up Andy Nyman of Herbert Wise’s 1989 TV movie of The Woman in Black, “It properly delivers, and it properly delivers in a fantastically old fashioned way. It’s a proper ghost story at Christmas.” He’s not wrong. Now restored and released on Blu-ray with a load of new extras, the movie is still incredibly effective. Nyman has recorded a new commentary for the film along with fellow horror experts Kim Newman and Mark Gatiss. Nyman has a personal connection to the film too – it was his very first TV role, playing legal clerk Jackie, opposite Stephen Mackintosh as his sidekick. 30 years on and coming back to do the commentary was a joy, he explains.
“Oh, look, I honestly love it all so much,” he beams. “I never take anything for granted.” Nyman and Gatiss have known each other for years. “The first words Mark ever said to me were, ‘Have you seen the new Chaplain? He eats his boots, Mr Kidd!'” laughs Nyman, doing an impression of a line he delivers in the film. “It’s amazing that The Woman In Black was the first thing we ever talked about. He was a fan of it.”
Nyman recorded the commentary on lockdown, “It was just amazing to see how beautiful it looks. The restoration is amazing,” he says. “Also, just that slow burn power – it just takes its time bit by bit and creeps up on you. And how profoundly bleak the ending is. Christmas Eve, holy shit. You’re going out like that.”
Adapted by Nigel Neale from Susan Hill’s celebrated novel, the story follows young lawyer Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) who is hired to settle the estate of a reclusive widow who has passed away, but out at the remote Eel Marsh Manor Kidd experiences strange goings on that drive him half mad, including the apparition of the titular woman in black.
Nyman says it’s reminiscent of public information films in the 70s. “There’s something very unforgiving. I think that’s one of the things that’s incredibly British about the sensibility of The Woman in Black, in all its incarnations. Susan Hill’s story, the play version, this first incarnation of it, is there’s a sort of quiet misery that is so British,” explains Nyman.
British storytelling is important to Nyman, whose hit play, and later movie, Ghost Stories is steeped in a similar Britishness.
“It’s easy to forget we’re a little island where it rains 80% of the time. That’s part of who we are,” he says.
We can expect to see more of that once production starts up again – Nyman and writing partner Jeremy Dyson have written their next play and film already. He’s closed-lipped about the details but both are genre, “and born of our sensibilities and some of the things we’ve touched on in Ghost Stories that we wanted to explore a little bit more,” he says.
Nyman reveals the shows that shaped him…
Is there a TV show that inspired your career?
Well, not inspired my career necessarily, but Thriller when I was a kid, the Brian Clemens’ series, had a profound effect on me. It terrified me. There was one episode in particular that truly, truly terrified me. I was probably seven and the babysitter was around, and my sister was like, “Let’s watch it, it will be fine.” I got as far as the titles, there was a little two-minute pre-sequence and then the titles, and the music, holy shit, it’s so disturbing. So that really terrified me, and laid dormant for years until I started digging into horror again and re-found that series.
Hammer House of Horror was another thing that when I was at school everyone would talk about. I used to love it. I had these books all about horror films and stuff, but I just could not watch them. But those two were ones that really played a big part growing up in just feeling like there was a subversive world that I didn’t want to go near, but I wanted to go near. It was both things at once.
How could I not have said Doctor Who? Those Jon Pertwee Doctor Whos, oh my god. Again, you’re toying with that fear, it’s like probing the fire, so I really liked that when I was growing up.
Who or what was your first TV love?
You mean in terms of like, “Oh my god I’m in love with them.”
It’s up to you. You can answer it that way.
In which show?
New Avengers. The first poster I ever had on my wall was Joanna Lumley in that. It was the three of them, it was Steed, her and Gareth Hunt. Terrible. But she was the only one I cared about. I wasn’t even aware of “I fancy her.” It was just like, “Who is that? Amazing.” Also, the fact she did karate, just fantastic.
When did you last cry watching television?
Oh I’ll cry at anything. It won’t be long ago. All right, two nights ago, you know what I cried at? I re-watched Rambo: Last Blood.
I was in floods at the end of it, at the pictures. I cried again watching it the other night, because number one, I loved it. I know it’s got its flaws, but I loved it and I love him. Watching that end montage sequence just brought back … It’s a character and an actor who has been with you for 30 years, and it’s my dad. I mean, my dad wasn’t John Rambo, but the first video we ever rented was First Blood. It’s like emotionally intertwined with it. So the question should be, when did you last not-cry at something?
What was the last TV show you recommended to a friend?
Unorthodox, which we just finished. But we watch loads, recommend loads. I’m really enjoying Perry Mason at the moment, I recommended that to someone today. There’s brilliant TV out there. I’m halfway, two-thirds of the way filming Unforgotten. I’m one of the guest leads in the new series of that, which I’d never seen until I got offered the job and then watched it. It’s amazing. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, it’s all on Netflix. It’s phenomenal. It’s the thing with Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, the cold case thing. It’s British, the casts are always brilliant, it’s brilliantly written and acted. Just fantastic. So I think it’s a golden period for TV. TV has changed.
Which TV theme song do you know all the words to?
That’s a really hard question, because I bet if one started now, I’d be able to sing it. There’s loads I know, but most of them are from my … So the first one that comes to mind is Record Breakers. [Sings] “If you’re the tallest, the smallest …” The next one that comes to mind is Minder. [Sings] “I could be so good for you.” I love a TV theme. I’ve got albums of them up here, Great TV Themes. I love them. That’s one of the things I really miss about streaming as well, skip the titles and all that. I love a good theme, I want a good TV theme.
Which TV show would you bring back from the dead if you could?
Maybe Thriller, Brian Clemens is a bit of an unsung hero. The stuff that he wrote and created is just amazing. Those scripts are so good. It’s very dated now, but some of the plotting and stuff, and the writing is just great.
What’s the most fun you’ve ever had making television?
Probably Dead Set. It came at the most amazing time. My dad had literally just died, they postponed the shoot for me. God bless them. All you hear about are the stories of producers being awful and this and that, they were just amazing. So we had a week, I’m Jewish, so we had the shiva period, the week of mourning for my dad. Finished that on a Sunday night, Monday morning I was being chased by Davina. It was Charlie Brooker’s first drama, an amazing script, Yann Demange’s brilliant direction. It had this ragged energy to it. Then to get my head ripped off, to have all that blood and guts. I’ve been blessed, I’ve had a wonderful varied brilliant career. I cherish them all, but that was definitely a highlight.
Which TV show do you wish more people would watch?
I’m laughing, because I’m going to say Dickinson’s Real Deal. I don’t know, there’s just so much material out there, isn’t there? So much material. Do you know what? There was this stupid reality show that we loved called Hardcore Pawn, P-A-W-N. Oh, my god. I think it’s set in Detroit. We absolutely loved that show. I miss that, I wish they still showed that. Dumb answer, but …
Register your interest in the standard Blu-ray edition of The Woman in Black coming soon from Network.