The Turn of the Screw, written by James Henry in 1898, and the 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, are both psychological thrillers designed to invoke deep thought in the reader. When the book ends, and the final reel of the movie rolls, the audience is left with questions as to what really happened. The story of little Flora, played by Pamela Franklin, and her brother Miles, portrayed by Martin Stephens, can be taken literally; but it is so much more fun to analyze the story even deeper and develop other theories of what really could have happened. There are several theories I have been able to develop after analyzing both the book and the movie.
It is possible that there are ghosts, but it is also possible that the children do not know of the ghosts' existence. The ghosts could periodically possess the children without the children's knowledge (which would explain why the children act strangely from time to time). This would also explain Flora and Miles' behavior when the governess claims ghosts are near. In the movie, Flora becomes hysterical when the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), claims the child has been speaking with a ghost. The child's behavior causes Miss Gross, the housekeeper (Megs Jenkins), to take Flora away from Bly Estate.
Or perhaps the idea of the ghosts is all a conspiracy designed by Miss Gross, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), and Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and the children, to take over the estate. Dialogue between the characters reveals that the children's uncle, the owner of the estate (Michael Redgrave), never visits. Mrs. Grose had apparently lived at the estate in seclusion with the two children for several years with hardly any contact with the outside world. On the other hand, Miss Jessel and Quint, according to the information given by Mrs. Grose, were both alone in the world except for their jobs at Bly. When this scenario is considered then it is plausible that if Mrs. Grose played along, Jessel and Quint (if they pretended to be dead) would be able to convince the new governess there were ghosts on the estate. The end result would give Mrs. Grose the opportunity to leave Bly, and Jessel and Quint would have complete control of the estate. Who is to say Mrs. Grose actually takes Flora to London at the end of the movie? And we never know if Miles is really dead…but what IS certain at the end of the movie, is the governess's mind has been hampered with, and she would be very easy to bend to anyone's will.
Or perhaps it is all the governess' conspiracy. Perhaps she realizes that, when she gains complete control of the affairs of the estate, she wants to have power over all the grounds. After all, she is the only one left at the estate (living at least) as far as we know when the movie ends. After all, since the estate's owner and children's uncle never checked on the estate, it would be very easy for the governess to write to him that things were well when she was in actuality the only person on the grounds.
Finally, this could simply be a crazy woman's tale…something she has fabricated herself to scare others, or something she truly believed to have occurred in her past.
Whatever the truth behind The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents may be, one thing is clear…we do not really know what happened? But is that not the point of a psychological thriller in the first place?