After viewing The Innocents, a 1961 film directed by Jack Clayton, I was less disturbed than after I had read the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. Actually, the movie complemented the novel and answered some of the questions I had about the book. The movie had all the weird aspects of the book, but it was easier to follow and the film gave a stronger basis for a skeptic to believe that the ghosts actually existed, or at least that Miss Giddens, the governess (played by Deborah Kerr) was not the only person seeing visions. Miss Giddens may have been teetering on the edge of sanity, but viewers will see the ghosts as well. If the ghosts of Peter Quint (depicted by Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (acted by Clytie Jessop) were a question of Miss Giddens' mental health and emotional sanity, what does this say for all the viewers?
The book was as good as the movie, although, as the saying goes, a picture is worth ten thousand words. Jack Clayton definitely had the advantage over Henry James in this aspect because Clayton could simply show the viewers the ghost of Miss Jessel watching from across the river or the ghost of Peter Quint making himself visible to Miss Giddens for the first time. As well, Clayton could show Miss Giddens and Miles (acted by Martin Stephens) engaging in not-so innocent displays of affection.
We all should know what an acceptable kiss is with a child, and the movie showed us what James was hinting at in his novella. Not only did Miss Giddens and Miles share an unhealthy affection for each other but Miles and his sister, Flora (played by Pamela Franklin) engaged in questionable displays of affection as well. This makes the viewers believe that the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are using the children to engage in their unfinished sexual activities. Gross, Sick, Twisted, Perverted-any of the previous, or all of the previous fit the scenario. The magic of this, however, is that one can see this simply by watching how Miles and Flora act toward one another as well as how they deny seeing any ghosts. The children are possessed and utterly terrified of admitting to Miss Giddens that they see the ghosts.
Henry James, on the other hand, had to explain elaborately on some things in order for the readers to comprehend what was taking place. Everything from the appearances of the ghosts to the children's behavior toward one another had to be elaborated upon in order to understand the underlying creepiness. The same creepiness is true of Mrs. Grose (depicted by Megs Jenkins) and her peculiar behaviors. Mrs. Grose's evasiveness in answering Miss Giddens' inquisitions regarding the former deceased governess and her lover are an indication that she knows more than she is willing to admit.
In retrospect, this might be viewed as more of an advantage over Clayton because James could explain certain events in a way that left one's mind to imagine exactly what was taking place. After all, one of the best writing techniques is to let the readers figure out for themselves what the writer wants them to gather from the story.
Either way, whether one prefers the film or the novella, both Clayton and James did a wonderful job in bringing their respective works to life on paper as well as on the big screen. It does not really matter if one believes in ghosts or not. Both the book and the movie have enough weird twists to compensate for a lack of believing in poltergeists!