Henry James wrote an incredible ghost story! However, I feel it is more than just the mere aspects of ghosts that drew me to love this book. When one first reads The Turn of The Screw (1898), one may not like it because it did not have any true evidence of ghosts. But if one considers the story, one realizes that there is more too it than just that there may or may not be ghosts. Since the story is told through the eyes of the governess, one receives the impression that every incident in the book happened exactly as she saw it. One is never allowed to see anyone else's opinions about the actions or incidents that occur. That is why I truly love this book. In the 1961 movie The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, the ghosts are portrayed as a more reliable occurrence. The director took his vision of what happened in the book and relayed that to the screen. His idea of the story was oriented towards the existence of these ghosts.
The governess attends to two young children in this story. While she is there in Bly (the house in the country), she is visited by two ghosts. One is believed to be Peter Quint, and the other to be the former governess, Miss Jessel, who both died mysteriously. Many readers argue that these apparitions are real and that they really do appear to those characters in the story. However, I feel that they are not real because the governess is going mad and is letting her mind run away with her. The first sighting of a "ghost" comes when the governess is walking by herself outside at dusk. She has been daydreaming about seeing the master of the house; and, when she looks up, low and behold a man is there on the tower looking at her. The second sighting happens in the kitchen when she views Peter Quint out of the window. After these two ghostly appearances, the governess brings this to Mrs. Grose's attention. If one just reads the words in quotations as if it is a conversation, then one will see that Mrs. Grose has no real knowledge of the spirit of Peter Quint marching around the house. Only when one reads the governess' subsequent thoughts on them, does one get the impression that Mrs. Grose knows more than it seems. Here is a small example:
Mrs. G "It's time for church!"
Govern "Oh, I'm not fit for church!"
MG "Won't it do you good?"
G "It won't do them---!"
MG "The children?"
G "I can't leave them now."
MG "You're afraid---?"
G "I'm afraid of him."
After this conversation, the governess muses to herself and the reader"Mrs. Grose's large face showed me, at this, for the first time, the faraway faint glimmer of a consciousness more acute" (22).
The entire book is written this way; only when one reads the thoughts of the governess, does one see any indication of anyone else thinking there are ghosts. After the governess sees Miss Jessel for the first time, she goes back to tell Mrs. Grose, who asks the governess why she is so sure that the lady she saw was Miss Jessel. The conversation that follows never really answers that question. The governess avoids the question and focuses on telling her tale. She does not even give a detailed description of the ghost to Mrs. Grose. Since, of course, one is reading the story through a mad woman's eyes, one is totally convinced that she has seen a ghost and that that ghost was definitely Miss Jessel.
The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, shows both sides of the story as well. One sees the ghosts and the reactions of the other characters more clearly. The children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin) do seem aware of the presence of the spirits, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). The governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is shown as perceiving the truth and being on the right track with her accusations. The movie shows the governess in the halls of Bly, holding her candelabra, spinning in circles, searching for these ghosts at night. Those images portrayed with those spinning camera angles give the impression to an observer of someone losing control of her thoughts. Nevertheless, at the same time, the movie gives a stronger impression that the governess is not going crazy and that she is truthfully seeing what is going on.
As a reader and viewer, one can be sucked into believing everything this kind, worried governess says or thinks, but I warn one to be mindful of what the governess actually says and what the people around her really say. One should not be one-sided in one's thinking when one approaches this book and its cinematic counterpart, or one will miss a truly twisted side to this ghost story.