The Ghosts and The Governess

     The 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton and starring Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Pamela Franklin, Martin Stephens, and Michael Redgrave, is a wonderful adaptation of the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James. The story tells of a young woman, named Miss Giddens and played by Deborah Kerr in the movie version, who takes on the job of a governess for two children, Flora and Miles, played by Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens. Upon her arrival at the bleak mansion, the governess is greeted by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, depicted by Megs Jenkins. Also Miss Giddens makes the acquaintances of the young girl Flora, who at the time seemed to be a little darling.

     Not long after the governess arrives at the house, she receives news that young Miles is being sent home from his school for mysterious reasons. Therefore, he will be schooled by Miss Giddens, along with Flora.

     At the beginning all seems to be just great at the mansion. Miss Giddens has really made a connection with the children; they have really adapted to her. The children seem to trust the governess; she also in return has earned their trust. Yet this is all soon to change. The governess receives news from the housekeeper that she thinks spirits may possess the children. The governess does not believe this at first, but then she starts to get reasons to believe it.

     The governess starts experiencing visitors from the beyond. Whether this is for real or just in her mind; no one really knows. For instance, she sees on the tower, then at the window, an older gentleman (Peter Wyngarde) who has a wild look to him. She finds out later that the man that she supposedly saw was a person who had used to live in the home. He was Peter Quint, the deceased valet of the owner. He had been an alcoholic who had died by falling at the front steps of the house. The governess also finds out that he had been very close to Miles, and Miles had taken his death worse than anybody else had.

     Over time the governess has more encounters with the so-called ghosts, not only with the man but she also sees a woman who is supposedly the former governess, Miss Jessel, played by Clytie Jessop. Miss Giddens also comes to find that the man and the women that she is seeing had been lovers while they were at the house and that both children had been extremely close to the former governess who had killed herself at the nearby lake.

     So the governess comes to the conclusion that these two spirits, as a way for them to get back into this real world, possess the children. The governess feels that, if the children just admit that they are being possessed, they will be set free, yet she cannot get the children to perform this task. This is the conflict throughout the whole film; and finally is the closing scene, where Miles holds out that he is possessed so long that it kills him.

     This is a great suspense ghost film, and I would recommend it to all. The film received a number of awards such as Best British Film, by the British Academy Awards 1961, Competing Film by the Cannes Film Festival 1962, and Best Screenwriting, awarded by New York Film Critics Circle 1961.

Ryan Jenkins

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