Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: Tim Fywell
The Woman in White (1997) is a BBC television adaptation of the 1859 novel of the same name by Wilkie Collins. Unlike the epistolary style of the novel, the 2-hour dramatisation uses Marian as the main character. She bookends the film with her narration.
Marian Fairlie (Tara Fitzgerald) and Laura Fairlie (Justine Waddell) are half-sisters (from different mothers). Laura's father died, leaving Laura all his money, which she will inherit when she comes of age. Despite their differences, Marian is insistent to their new tutor, Mr. Hartright (Andrew Lincoln), that they are very close. They agree in everything, and refuse to be taught separately. On the night Mr. Hartright arrives at the Fairlie estate, Limmeridge, he bumps into a woman in white. She speaks cryptically, and inquires if he is to stay with the Fairlies. When a carriage arrives, she runs off. Mr. Gilmore, the Fairlies' attorney, tells him that the woman must have been a villager. When the new tutor meets the two sisters, he mistakes Laura for the woman in white. They are not the same person, but there is a strong resemblance.
As Mr. Hartright teaches the sisters, he grows especially fond of Laura. However, Marian makes it clear to him that her sister is already engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Though she senses that something is not quite right, she cannot find fault in Sir Percival, who is kind, attentive, and rich. Laura and Mr. Hartright acknowledge their feelings for each other, but they cannot be together. One night, Marian is walking around the estate when she sees a servant rush out from the woods, screaming for her help. Right behind her is Mr. Hartright, whom she accuses of trying to rape her. He is immediately disgraced and sent away, but not before he warns Laura that she is in great danger. She ignores him and marries Sir Percival.
When her sister returns from her honeymoon, Marian visits her and plans to stay for a while. However, Laura is not herself and refuses to speak to or even see Marian for four days. After threatening to leave, Laura asks her sister to stay and soon reveals the terrible truth. Despite seeming to be kind, Sir Percival abuses his wife in private. She ultimately reveals that she is afraid her husband will kill her to steal her inheritance. Marian can hardly believe it, but tells her sister to lock Glyde out of her room at night.
Glyde's foreign friend, Count Fosco, arrives. Before dinner, Laura is pressured into signing a document, but her husband refuses to let her read it. Fosco, realizing that he must appear to be on her side, tells his friend to stop forcing her to sign it. Angered by her defiance, Glyde throws the papers into the fire and storms out. Meanwhile, the woman in white has reappeared; her name is Anne Catherick. The sisters try to help her by meeting her in secret and trying to give her food and clothing. However, they are intercepted by Sir Percival, who captures the woman and puts her away in an asylum.
Marian and Laura try to find a way to go back home to Limmeridge, but their plans are foiled by Baxter, a servant of Sir Percival, who shoots at them as they sprint toward the roads. They run back to the house, but Marian goes back outside to spy on Count Fosco and Sir Percival. She overhears them saying that Marian and Laura are to be separated before breakfast. However, she accidentally pushes something which crashes off the balcony. They look to see who is there, while Marian jumps from the balcony to the ground and drags her body into the woods until they go back in. She is drenched by rain and has broken her ankle. She rushes back to her room and finds shelter under her bed. However, she has a fever and is unable to go to Laura. People break into her room and force her to drink something. While ill, she dreams of her sister being drugged and thrown off the tower. She wakes up and Mr. Gilmore informs her that Anne has been placed in an asylum and Laura has committed suicide by jumping off the tower.
Unwilling to believe her sister would kill herself, Marian promises herself that she will avenge her sister's death. After being found rifling through Count Fosco's things, she is kicked out of the company of the Count and his wife. She finds help in a drunken Mr. Hartright who makes a living off cheap portrait sketches. Together they work toward finding Anne Catherick. Marian visits Anne's doctor, under the guise of being ill. However, when he refuses to reveal confidential information about Anne, Marian threatens to tell his clients that he made overtures of love to her while she was scantily dressed. He tells her that Anne was born out of wedlock, and that her mother was used as a "physical resource." She had first sought his help after having a breakdown at 12 years old. He reveals the location of her asylum, and tells Marian that Anne had placed something in Mr. Fairlie's grave when he died.
At the asylum, Marian is told that Anne is docile, but is still given drugs for delusions. They go to her room where a woman dressed in white is staring at the wall. As Marian approaches her, she realizes that it is not Anne, but her sister Laura! They take Laura away from there, but she does not show any signs of recognition.
Marian and Mr. Hartright go to Laura's father's grave, where Hartright digs up the coffin and finds a box filled with a lock of Anne's hair, a will, and Anne's diary. They read the documents in the church adjacent to the graveyard and discover that Anne is actually Laura's half-sister, the product of her father's indiscretions with Anne's mother. In addition, they discover that Sir Percival had raped Anne when she was only 12 years old, leading to her madness. After discovering this, their father had tried to exclude Glyde from obtaining any of the Fairlie money. However, just as these pieces of evidence come to light, Glyde comes into the church, knocks out Hartright and sets the papers on fire. Accidentally, Marian knocks over a kerosene lamp and the church begins to catch fire. Afraid that Glyde is going to kill her, she begins running away, locking the doors behind her, and effectively keeping Glyde near the flames. She drags Hartright's body out of the church, and runs back, realizing that Glyde is trapped. However, as he screams for help, there is nothing she can do. Hartright takes her away from the church as it explodes.
Back at home, Laura finally recognizes Mr. Hartright and her sister. Some time afterward, their uncle (Ian Richardson) makes a public announcement that Mr. Hartright was mistakenly accused of raping a servant. (The servant had been paid off to frame him by Sir Percival.) He also tells everyone that Laura is to marry Mr. Hartright. The story ends with Marian's reflection on what had happened to Anne, and her observation that a cycle of male abuse toward females had led to such tragedy. Laura and Mr. Hartright are married and have children. Marian picks up her niece, named Anne, and prays that the cycle had ended with them.
Marian Fairlie Tara Fitzgerald Laura's half-sister
Laura, Lady Glyde (née Fairlie) Justine Waddell Marian's half-sister, Sir Percival's wife
Walter Hartright Andrew Lincoln Tutor to the Fairlie sisters
Anne Catherick Susan Vidler The mysterious woman in white
Sir Percival Glyde James Wilby Laura's husband
Count Fosco Simon Callow Sir Percival's conspirator
Mr. Gilmore John Standing The Fairlies' lawyer
Mr. Fairlie Ian Richardson Marian and Laura's uncle
Dr. Kidson Corin Redgrave Anne's doctor