Miles: Future Serial Killer According to Jack Clayton

     As far as the reality of ghosts are concerned, a reader can debate whether the ghosts in Henry James’s 1898 literary classic The Turn of the Screw are real or not. By reading this novella, the reader would guess the governess was a mad woman who was showered with paranoia resulting from old ghost stories. However, after viewing Jack Clayton’s 1961 film The Innocents, one would have to wonder if ghosts were possesing the children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), or if Miss Giddens' (Deborah Kerr) imagination were merely using them as a scapegoat. While James portrays the children as innocent angels just being children, while Clayton instills Miles and Flora with abnormal behavior and suspicious, adult-like actions perhaps at the doing of the ghosts of Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). It is interesting to view The Turn of the Screw through the eyes of Clayton.

     Miles, the ten-year-old character in both the novella and the film, plays the role of a mischievious, charming, “boys will be boys” type of child in the book. He plays the occasional prank and for the most part relieved from any suspicion by the reader that he is possessed. However, in the film Miles is shown giving Miss Giddens a boquet of flowers after school one day, which is quite unusual for a boy that young. The viewer also notices that Miles carries an adult-like presence when conversing with others. Clayton uses foreshadowing like this to warn viewers that Miles will probably do something creepy later in the movie.

     Another display of the abnormal behavior Miles has in the movie but not in the book is the hide-n-seek scene on the silver screen. While Miles was “it,” he found Miss Giddens in a room and astonishlingly tries to strangle her. Miss Gidden, terrified by the incident, could only wonder what external force could possess Miles to do such a thing. Compared to this, the novella’s game was much more innocent and childlike.

     The kissing scene in the movie also hints that the ghost of Peter Quint has possessed young Miles. Miles gives Miss Giddens a long, hard kiss on the lips that is worthy of most grown men, which is again not associated with ten-year-old boys. He ended with a smile as if he knew exactly what he was doing. The book only has Miles allowing the governess to kiss him only in good humor.

     While there may be ghosts present in both the film and the movie, Clayton made Miles a much more suspicious character than James did. It is interesting to note that while some readers make read The Turn of the Screw and think that the governess is mad, some readers, such as Clayton, may think an outside, supernatural force did exist in the children.

Adam Thompson

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