The past, it’s been said, is another country. And indeed, anyone who watched the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the London Olympics should know by now that Great Britain has changed over the last fifty years to a place where it’s virtually unrecognizable. Having said that though, head outside of the big cities, and I reckon that Blighty’s still as superstitious, conservative, hostile and downright creepy as it ever was when I was growing up.
In my small village alone (today it still only has a population of just 3000) people whispered tales of ghost ships, huge one-eyed monster dogs running the coastal path, a ghostly green hand to terrorize errant schoolkids, and headless ladies in horse-drawn carriages. There were witches, river sprites, Iceni graves and eery, megalithic Seahenge. We also had Jewish pogroms and hung Royalists from the old tree in town, and the Black Death scored 90% death rates across the county. People were sullen and silent, and when they spoke, their dialect was scatter-shot with Old Norse words and Danish-inflected accents, closed in and left behind from the days of the Vikings. My village hung onto these traditions for centuries, and no amount of feel-good multiculturalism is going to change that. I lived there from the age of one and always, always, felt like an outsider.
I’m reminded of this after seeing Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black. It’s a great little Edwardian horror from the awesome Hammer Studios (more scares from my misspent youth) about a young Law Clerk who’s forced to spend time in a bleak coastal mansion in the face of career suicide and village shunning. The problem is, he sees a woman on the marshes, dressed in black, and then things start going terrifyingly wrong, particularly for the children in the village……
So blank faced yokels, swirling mists, grim and bloody superstition, bumps in the night? Where to film? Well, nowhere quite so gruesome as North Norfolk, fortunately; playing stand-in (with the help of mucho CGI) is Layer Marney Tower in Colchester, built in the time of Henry VIII.