Did the Governess Have a “Screw” Loose?

         The film adaptation of Henry James’s 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, was an exceptional interpretation. The Innocents, which was directed by Jack Clayton in 1961, brought the characters of James’s novella to life. Stars of the film included Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens, the governess), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint), Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Michael Redgrave (the uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Pamela Franklin (Flora), and Clytie Jessop (Miss Jessel). Through the acting and the cinematography, by Freddie Francis, the film created a real sense of horror and confusion as the plot played out on screen.

         Deborah Kerr, although several years older in real life than the governess was supposed to be, was excellent in the role. Once I got into the film, I did not even realize that she was closer to forty than she was twenty. It just was not an issue. Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin were also great in their roles as Miles and Flora. There was just something about the pair of children that really gave me the creeps as the film played out. They acted very well together, and they were perfect to play a brother and sister. The only difference from the novella was that they had dark hair in the film and blond hair in the novella.

         When the governess arrived at the home, I was immediately struck by a total sense of isolation. As far as the eye could see, there were no other homes anywhere around. There were only fields, lakes, and trees. As the film progresses, this sense of isolation becomes even more intense. The lighting was also very effective. By having the characters have only candles lit at night, the director and cinematographer ensured that the eeriness of the whole situation was intensified. The lighting was a key factor to creating a true horror film.

         Now I am going to deal with the question of the governess’ sanity. In the film, Miss Giddens saw the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel on several occasions. Each appearance was a bit creepier than the last. The ghosts also appeared several times when the children were in the room. The question is: did they see them? The argument could go either way. The children never actually acknowledged that they saw the ghosts, but they acted very strange when questioned. It was almost like they were in cahoots with the ghosts or something.

         No one else from the estate saw the ghosts. Mrs. Grose did not see them, or any of the other workers. So, do they exist? Or was Miss Giddens crazy? Again, the argument could go either way. Every logical explanation would say that since Miss Giddens was the only one to see the ghosts, then she must be crazy. No one else saw them, or admitted to seeing them, so it must have been her imagination playing tricks on her.

         On the other hand, the film has all of these odd events happening that no one has an explanation for: Miles in the garden in the middle of the night; the odd song that Flora was always singing. The children were always somewhere close when the ghosts appeared. What about Flora’s reaction to Miss Giddens questioning?--she freaks out and starts screaming hysterically for hours. Is that not a bit odd? What about Miles dying when Miss Giddens questions him very intensely?--that appears strange to me. It is not too often that healthy boys drop dead all of a sudden because someone is in their face.

         Who really knows whether the governess was crazy or not? Facts support that she was the only one who saw the ghosts. Facts also support that the children acted extremely strange and had a history of lying to the governess. That is the beauty of the film. The viewer can decide for his or herself about the “realness” of the ghosts. Personally, I like to believe in things that cannot be explained. In my opinion, the governess was a lady with a ghost problem on her hand. She was not a lady with a screw loose. Too bad The Ghostbusters did not come on the scene for several more decades!

Alicia Hughes

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