A Woman Sobbing

Dir. Rodney Bennett

A Woman Sobbing was part of the BBC’s Dead of Night horror anthology series from the early Seventies. Unfortunately not all of the episodes of the series have survived – three out of seven are all that is left, but they exemplify the series perfectly, capturing that unmistakably creepy and strangely nostalgic feel of ‘hide behind the couch’ television horror from yesteryear. A Woman Sobbing tells of Jane (Anna Massey), a middle aged woman who, after moving to the country with her family, begins to suspect that her home is haunted by a baleful spectre who ceaselessly weeps throughout the night in the attic room above Jane’s bed.

Like many great ghost stories, the most haunting aspect of A Woman Sobbing is its ambiguity. Like most of the other episodes of the series, it unfurls as a study of psychological breakdown in modern society. Supernatural elements are present, but vaguely so. Jane may very well be haunted by a distraught ghost, but then again, it could all be in her mind. A rather lonely woman, she struggles to while away the hours until her husband returns from his office job in the city and her sons come home from school. Before long though, she begins to feel estranged from them. They cannot hear the crying in the attic and her feelings of isolation and helplessness gradually render her incapable of interacting with them. Relations turn cold in the bedroom too, and not just because there might be a ghost in the attic above.

With the focus of the story on a woman descending into despair, confined by marriage and conservative society, A Woman Sobbing contains indisputable traits of the Gothic. Robert Holmes’s script successfully transfers the Gothic from storm-lashed turreted castles of yore to British suburbia in the Seventies. Repressed emotions, mental anguish and the past returning to haunt the present are all themes which thickly course throughout. Visually too, it contains certain imagery imbued with high-Gothicism, utilised to interesting effect given the modern setting; Jane timidly ascending her stairs to the attic room – where things are stored away to be forgotten - wearing a flowing white nightgown - she may as well be carrying a candelabrum - while striking lighting and shadows create a sense of menace and unease as she tiptoes throughout her increasingly creepy home. Echoes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Charlotte Perkins Gilmore’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the despair of Sylvia Plath and myriad titles by Shirley Jackson (no one does marginalised and paranoid female characters like Ms Jackson) and other such notions of the Female Gothic permeate proceedings.

Thoroughly adult themes are addressed, such as sexual frustration, the menopause, the loneliness of middle age, isolation, traditional gender roles and stereotypes, and mental illness, as A Woman Sobbing poses some pointed questions about the plight of women in modern society – many of which still ring true (sexism, gender pay gaps, discrimination). Yes, society is changing, but there are still archaic aspects of it that expect women to change their name when marrying, to look and behave a certain way, establish a home and family, raise children and give up careers; it certainly still works to make them feel guilty, or that they’re somehow less of a woman if they don’t comply. Or can’t comply. But what happens when she’s no longer dutifully serving her family? Jane finds herself left alone during the day with no outlet for her pent up energy, nor stimulation for her sharp intellect and wit. When her husband tries to explain away her fears of a weeping ghost in the attic, he says Jane is so bored her imagination has got the better of her. The patronising git. When she can’t sleep he impatiently, dismissively tells her to take another pill, not seeing that she is possibly going out of her mind with loneliness and despair. Her concerns aren't addressed by medication, they're numbed. As Jane, Anna Massey is movingly convincing as an intelligent woman slowly consumed by her fears.

Things come to a head when a young Dutch woman is hired as an au pair and Jane’s paranoia increases – is her husband having an affair with this woman? The crying in the attic drives her to smash through walls with a pick-axe in search of the wailing entity. She pleads with the au pair, beseeching her to confess she too can hear the sobbing because she’s a woman and she ‘understands’, before performing a kitchen-sink exorcism of the house with water, salt and desperation.

Is the house haunted? Can only women of a certain age and mindset hear the ghost, if indeed there is a ghost? Is it her own helpless sobbing that Jane hears, somehow fracturing her own mind trying to distance herself from her unhappiness? The ambiguity only adds to the haunting feel of this masterful domestic horror tale.


Steve Finnell said…

Who will be allowed to enter the great city, the holy Jerusalem, when time will no longer exist?

Revelation 21:9-27..... 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city , the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God........27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.(NKJV)

That narrows it down. You do not have to speculate about that which defiles. You do not have to wonder what or who causes an abomination or a lie. If your name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life you are the guilty one.

Philippians 4:3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the Book of Life.(NKJV)

Whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life? All of those whose sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb have their names written in the Book of Life.

How do men get their sins washed away?
1. Faith: John 3:16
2. Repentance: Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38
3. Confession:Romans 10:9
4. Water Baptism: Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Ephesians 5:25-27

Having your name written on the membership role of your local church does not guarantee that your name will be written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

Your name might be written in the book at the Baptist Church, the Lutheran Church, the Mosque, the Catholic Church, the Temple of Freemasonry, the Methodist church, the Elks Lodge, the Salvation Army, the Mormon Church, the Buddhist Temple, the Community Church, the Christian Church, the Synagogue, etc., however, if your name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life you will not be allowed into the holy city, the new Jerusalem.

Revelation 3:1-5......."He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and His angels.(NKJV)

Yes, your name can be erased from the Book of Like.

Revelation 13:4-8 So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast.....8 And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.(NKJV)

At the end times all who do not not have their names written in the Book of Life will worship the beast.

There are men today who worship false gods. There are men, even now, who worship the Pope, the Virgin Mary and other dead saints by praying to them.

Is your name written in the Lamb's Book of Life? If not, you will not be entering the holy city, the new Jerusalem

YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com
Wes said…
Many thanks for this James, as I hadn't thought to investigate this BFI when it was first released, but reading your post has put this on my radar. In fact, I was considering grabbing the BFI's Christmas Ghost Stories set recently but inevitably something else got in the way, but I might still grab it in the new year. I must admit I'm still not entirely sure about the BBC Ghost stories, as I was rather disappointed when I saw a few episodes of the Hammer House of Hammer series earlier this year. Incidentally, the theme of A Woman Sobbing is very much on my mind at the moment - I recently caught a screening of Images, Robert Altman's film about a woman with an increasingly fragmented reality, and from that I felt a revisit to Repulsion and Let's Scare Jessica to Death was in order, those 3 particular films are among the finest films to deal with (to borrow from Inland Empire) a woman in trouble...
James Gracey said…
I highly recommend this, Wes. I picked up the DVD a few weeks ago and was very impressed. The opening titles alone are creepy as hell. I really wish the BBC still produced stuff like this.

I've also caught a few episodes of Hammer House of Horror on the Horror Channel, but the BBC/BFI stuff is quite different. Yes, much of it has dated, but it's still quite potent; especially A Woman Sobbing.

Confession time. I've never seen Let's Scare Jessica. I need to rectify this. STAT. Christine over at Fascination With Fear has been recommending it since forever.
James Gracey said…
Thanks for your comment, Steve. You've really grasped what this blog is all about. Apocalyptic scripture aside, what kind of horror are you into?

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