7 things you need to know about BBC drama The Woman In White

The BBC's new psychological thriller, The Woman in White is getting a lot of attention.

An adaptation of an 1860’s novel by Wilkie Collins, the first episode premiered on Monday night. It was closely followed by the second episode, and the third on Monday night. And it seems viewers were delighted with the spooky new drama.

In the first episode, viewers witnessed drawing master Walter Hartright meet with a haunting woman, all in white. And later in the episode, he began to notice some strange similarities between her and his new pupil, Laura Fairlie...

While fans have found some issues with the historical 'inaccuracies' in the adaption, many also flocked to social media to sing the praises of the drama after the first few episodes. One fan wrote, 'I watched the first episode of BBC’s #WomanInWhite 👰🏼 and thought it was a very good program.' While another agreed, 'Very much enjoyed the new #BBC Sunday night drama #WomanInWhite'.

The second episode will air on Sunday night - so in the meantime, here’s 7 things you need to know about the new BBC show...

What is The Woman In White about?

The five part series tells the story of how Walter Hartright, a painting teacher, has a ghostly encounter with a woman in white, while on his way to Limmeridge house in Cumberland.

Walter has been hired by Frederick Fairlie to teach Fairlie's niece Laura and her half-sister Marian. However, once he’s there he realises just how much Laura resembles the woman in white.

Walter and Laura start a romance, until its discovered that Laura is in fact engaged to the abrasive Sir Percival Glyde. The BBC describes the series as, ‘Romance, suspense, and danger combine as secrets come to the fore in Wilkie Collins’ haunting tale of insanity and identity.

‘The Woman in White will take viewers on a chilling ride down the shadowy paths and corridors of English country houses and ultimately into the depths of the Victorian madhouse.’

Adaptations of the book have been made previously, with a film in the late '90s, another BBC mini series in '80s and a few silent film versions.

Who stars in The Woman In White?

The series has a very famous cast – with Hollywood actors, and even a former soap actor, playing a main role.

Jessie Buckley, who starred in War and Peace plays the role of independent and intelligent Marian Halcombe. But you may recognise her for her singing too. She came second in BBC’s talent show I’d do Anything – searching for an unknown singer to take on the role of Nancy in Oliver.

Another familiar face is the actor Ben Hardy, who you may know as Peter Beale from EastEnders. His since gone onto star in X-men and plays one of the main characters Walter Hartwright.

Olivia Vinall, known for her roles in Apple Tree Yard and Holby City plays two characters - Laura Fairlie and Anne Catherick – the 'woman in white'.

Scottish actor Dougray Scott plays the villain Sir Percival Glyde. While Charles Dance, known most noteably for his role as Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones, plays Mr Frederick Fairlie – Laura’s uncle.

Does it stay faithful to the book?

According to the BBC, the adaptation follows a different format to the book, including flashback scenes. Ben Hardy, who plays Walter Hartright, said that the drama is “a very different take on the story... grittier and a bit more down-to-earth.

“There are a few differences – there tend to always be a few differences with any adaptation,” he also admitted.

“It was difficult, I loved the book so much, I was so married to it. I found it hard... any slight differences, I would sometimes argue! I'd say, 'But in the book...' but I had to just let it go,” he said.

While executive producer David M. Thompson said, “We have tried to approach the story in a modern, accessible way without making it feel anachronistic and untrue to its period roots.

“There are so many different elements to the book that we aimed to reflect in the adaptation. It’s a thriller which takes us to some quite dark places, but also a very romantic story which ultimately has an ending which is quite redemptive.”

Where was it filmed?

Most of the series is filmed in Northern Ireland, around venues and countryside landscapes in Belfast. Limmeridge House is used as the main location for the Fairlie family home.

Hampstead Heath is also used - where Walter Hartright first meets the woman in white - taking on a version of the Victorian asylum, and the slums of London.

Thompson reveals more about the setting saying, “Northern Ireland proved to be the perfect place to film an ambitious period drama such as The Woman In White.

“The story takes us from Hampstead Heath to an elegant house in Cumbria and then takes a darker turn to Blackwater, a brooding Gothic house, climaxing in the terrifying reality of an insane asylum and the slums of London.

“The countryside outside Belfast is beautiful, unmarred by development or electricity poles, and its landscapes range from parklands and ancient forests to wide open beaches - everything that we needed to give the story the sweep and epic quality of the original novel.”

But the show has already faced some criticism...

Historians have called the BBC out for not using the right language and clothing that would have been worn in that time period. Some tweeted their annoyance with the BBC show.

What’s the message behind the story?

Many say the book was head of its time as it focuses on men’s abusive control of women. The show's trailer sees one female character cry out, "How is it that men crush women time and time again and go unpunished?"

Sarah Curtis, producer of the show said, "Marian Halcombe, who is for me the most inspiring element of the story, is a formidable woman. In a bold departure from convention she refuses to wear the constraining corset and crinoline.

"She lives life on her own terms and eventually proves more than equal to unpicking the web of conspiracy that is woven around her and her helpless sister Laura."

While many believe that the adaptation has great relevance for today’s audience.

"The Woman In White clearly has great resonance today in the way it focuses on men’s abusive control over women and their ruthless determination to use women for their own ends. The first ‘sensation novel’, it was controversial, shocking and ahead of its time," says Thomspon.

"The story delves quite deep into the world of sexual control and exploitation but above all it’s a really powerful mystery thriller, full of twists and turns. The novel is unashamedly a melodrama with many heightened aspects, but it also offers quite deep psychological insights, and we have aimed to combine these elements in the adaptation," he adds.

When is The Woman In White on?

It started on Sunday 22nd April, and it will run for 5 weeks.

Sarah Finley

Sarah is a freelance journalist - writing about the royals and celebrities for Woman & Home, fitness and beauty for the Evening Standard and how the world of work has changed due to the pandemic for the BBC. 


She also covers a variety of other subjects and loves interviewing leaders and innovators in the beauty, travel and wellness worlds for numerous UK and overseas publications. 


As a journalist, she has written thousands of profile pieces - interviewing CEOs, real-life case studies and celebrities - interviewing everyone from Emma Bunton to the founder of Headspace.