Ghost stories have been around for longer than anyone can remember. Some people believe that ghosts truly exist, while others believe that they do not, and attribute "sightings" to overactive imaginations.
It has been said that the mind is a powerful thing, and that saying is definitely seen in both The Turn of the Screw, written in 1898 by Henry James, and The Innocents, directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton. Both deal with the psychological state of the governess, named Miss Giddens in the movie, as played by Deborah Kerr, and her two charges, Miles and Flora (depicted in the movie by Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin). There is also a longstanding argument as to whether or not the ghosts in the story are real or not. There are reasons for both ways of thinking. The governess seems to be the impressionable type, while the children almost seem to be suffering from bipolar disorder, when one considers how manic they often seem.
One of the pivotal characters in both stories is the governess. She had led, up to the point of the beginning of the story, what most of us would call a sheltered life. She was the daughter of a country minister, raised in a large family, and unaccustomed to the wealthy lifestyle with which she was being confronted. Not to mention that this was also her first job; and, in that time period, it must have been a daunting thing. Miles and Flora, the children in the story, were just plain odd. Perhaps it was the mental trauma of being orphaned and then virtually abandoned by their rich uncle (Michael Redgrave on screen), who had just become the sole parental figures in their young lives, that had done it.
Perhaps it was an overactive imagination that caused the governess to see the ghosts of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint (depicted by Clytie Jessop and Peter Wyngarde in the film). Perhaps it was the stress of the governess' being in a new environment, dealing with new people, and being away from home for the first time.
One fact that was slightly disturbing was that the children did not even seem to realize that they were acting for the ghosts. Some people may argue that this is not true, but there are several instances in the play when the children exhibited decidedly un-childlike behavior. These actions led us to believe that the ghosts are really real, just not the figment of the governess' imagination.
Whether or not the ghosts are real, both The Turn of The Screw and The Innocents are chilling psychological ghost stories that draw the reader in from the very beginning of the story to the rather shocking ending.