Oct. 22, 2020

Slightly Scary Romance: The Woman in White

Slightly Scary Romance: The Woman in White

In this episode I talk about the visually stunning 2018 miniseries The Woman in White, a creepy romantic mystery perfect for Halloween.


Where to stream The Woman in White

2018 WiW miniseries trailer and fantastic "sizzle reel"

1948 WiW movie trailer

Trailer for the dark and sometimes humorous  Sleepy Hollow


This is Confessions of a Closet Romantic, a podcast where talk about my favorite TV shows, movies, books and why I love them so much! Without embarrassment or shame-- well, mostly. This is Poppy and in this episode: slightly scary romance: The Woman in White.

I grew up in a family that didn't show a lot affection. I’d see close chummy siblings in movies like The Parent Trap, and I so wanted that…

My best friend growing up also came from a family of five kids—4 girls and one boy. 

All the girls slept in a queen size bed, even into their teens. They shared underwear and I think they even shared toothbrushes. Okay, you can go too far, but I wished I could feel that closeness just once.

 I kind of did with one of my co-workers in England. I think she may have gone to boarding school.  She would stand close when you’d talk to her and bump your shoulders when you made a point or tap you with her arms— it was the sweetest expression of solidarity, like "we’re in this together" feeling.

That kind of affection is at the heart of the 2018 PBS  mini-series The Woman in White. 

It’s based on  the 19th c. novel by Wilkie Collins. And according to Britannica the story is based on a real criminal case, which is tragic and spooky.

It starts out like a typical period drama — two orphaned half sisters, Marian and Laura, live with their uncle in Limmerage House, a grand country estate in  Cumberland. It’s a remote area near the Scottish border. Windswept. Sense what’s coming?

The story opens like this: Marian's pale face, shining eyes, in extreme close-up against a black  background. It looks like it's floating, held down by a black hat and veil. The shot looks like it's painted on velvet. She's meeting with a lawyer and you realize  she’s in mourning.

In flashback you learn why she's there— there is a mystery surrounding her beautiful sister Laura.  A bad one.

Their only company at their remote house is a young artist named Walter Hartright —what a great name. Their uncle has hired him to teach them the ladylike hobby of painting. 

 He arrives to his new gig in time for breakfast,  which Marian chucks and slides at him across the massive dining room table. This is how she introduces herself and her sister.


This doll of a Bohemian is played by Ben Hardy. How can you not fall for this guy? Blond curls, blue eyes, artist smock…when he says I’m at your service, I MELT… 

Laura falls hard for him– she is sweet  femininity personified while Marian is the Vita Sackville West to her Virginia Woolf. She strides about in long culottes men's weskits and frock coats. She takes charge, look people straight in the eye. She asks direct questions and expects answers-- I'm thinking this was strictly the prerogative of men at the time.

I don't know if the book is written this way, but the screenwriter puts the focus on Marian, played by Jessie Buckley, as a feminist hero. She becomes a main focus and catalyst for the action. She’s smart, courageous and takes the typical male role in protecting her sister.

Laura’s wellbeing is top of Marian's mind at all times— her comfort, safety, happiness. When they share a scene, you feel that bond. In that charming Victorian way, like I never was with my siblings, Marian kisses and hugs Laura to comfort her, holds hands with her, falls asleep with her face-to-face,  brushing her hair off her face as she nods off. 

This expression of pure love drives the story.

It’s a contrast with the corrupt love of Laura’s honor marriage to a local titled creep her father wanted her to marry, beautifully played by Dougray Scott. He's a piece of work.

The sisters disagree if the wedding should go forward or not, and at the very end of this clip,  listen how Marian announces their decision to their uncle. She is a true badass.


Their physical, mental and emotional lives were controlled by males. At points it was hard to take a breath — you feel the claustrophobia.

Even the arrival of the mail  has meaning. It was almost impossible for these ladies to get messages to the outside world or hear from anyone else. Talk about trapped.

I don't want to give away one bit of the plot because it has a lot of really great twists and turns. There is an abusive marriage, a wife locked in an asylum, quiet dread everywhere.

The acting,  lighting, sets, how shots are framed, the mood just sucked me into every scene. In this series, even a grassy clearing with woodland animals is full of anticipatory dread. 

The series has five episodes but it's more like a five-hour movie. Events come to roost by episode four and I loved these women so much, I could barely stand the tension — I was so afraid for them. Seeing Marian become the heroine is one of the the best parts of this story.

The romantic tropes are unconventional— it turns out to be between the sisters as well as Walter. Without giving too much away let me tell you that the tropes comes full circle with the most touching, natural proposal scene I’ve ever seen. It lasted  just a few moments, but it dragged tears straight out of my throat. Love is an action and this story proves that.

I love that there are three views of love here: pure self-sacrificing love between the sisters, twisted and corrupted marital love because of greed and power-hungry men, and unconditional romantic love.

If you're a fan of classic film, there is a fantastic 1948 version of this story with Sidney Greenstreet that is a bit glossier but soo suspenseful. 

For sure this mini-series is more romantic thriller than sweet romance but the settings are so atmospheric and the love between the sisters, the bravery and strength of Marian, their love for Walter, are so beautiful the whole series becomes different and surprising.

This series would be the perfect bookend with Tim Burton’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow for Halloween. Both are visually stunning with a dark mysterious tone. They are very different,   but in both, things resolve happily.

So put a pillow in front of your face if you have to —I did – but don't miss this!