|THE LOOK OF THE GHOST: NOW YOU SEE HER, NOW YOU…|
The ‘less is more’ mandate Watkins employed in the look of the film itself also translated to his vision for the Woman in Black. “Her look needed to leave room for the audience members’ interpretation,” says Watkins.
The approach was informed by the character beneath the veil – the woman who became the ghost, and what she experienced that made her so vengeful. Costume designer Keith Madden (who also worked with Watkins previously on Eden Lake) spent quite a bit of time researching mourning dresses to find the right look. “In the Victorian time, if a woman lost someone close to her she’d look like a bride of grief. She’d appear heavily veiled, dressed all in black. One of the key points we decided on early in the planning stages was that we didn’t want the audience to see any flesh. So all of the vulnerable parts, like the wrists from glove to sleeve and the back of the neck, were covered. And the fabric is very gutsy – giving her a strong silhouette. The focus needed to be on the face, what little you could see of it.”
In the final design, her face is camouflaged by a black veil which falls in such a way that it appears to form cracks in her skin. This effect was a happy accident of experimentation. “It was all about playing around with fabric because at the time we weren’t sure just how much of her face we wanted to reveal. I masked it by placing a sheer layer of fabric very close to her skin. When we tied the ribbon under her chin, the fabric fell like daggers or tears. Combined with the make-up, it worked very well.”
For hair and make-up designer Jeremy Woodhead (Ninja Assassin, V for Vendetta), working on a character as complex and dark as the Woman in Black was “great fun.”
“It’s character work as opposed to vanity make-up,” says Woodhead. “I was able to create a look in a process where make-up is actually important to define the character.”
Woodhead explains the philosophy behind the look. “She’s a ghost, but we didn’t want to fall into the clichés that come with a spectral being. She’s desiccated, her skin withered and dried, eaten away over time, but it was important to not make her a monster. She is somebody who was deeply wronged but she was once beautiful too.”
Transforming Liz White into the character each day was not a quick process. The make- up application alone took over two hours.
White found the costume and make-up helped transform her emotionally into the character. “As soon as the transformation was complete, I immediately felt detached from everyone around me on set. It was incredibly hard to look people straight in the eyes, and vice versa.”
One of the ways the Woman’s peculiar presence manifests in the film is in blink-and- you-miss-it appearances early on, out of a window or through a doorway. Watkins shot several alternate takes featuring the Woman in this fashion to allow for plenty of room for experimentation in the edit. “I wanted to make a refined, subtle ghost story,” he explains. “I didn’t want anything that went ‘boo’.”