The Effects of Society on Screenwriting

         Modern-day cinema has become an edgy and hardcore reflection of today's society; filled with symbolism and metaphor that relates to taboo subjects in the everyday world. An early film that interprets society through an adaptation of an older work is The Innocents, directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton and based on Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw. The screenwriters of The Innocents (William Archibald and Truman Capote) use The Turn of the Screw as a canvas to relate the same basic idea of the book in a wholly different context that relates more to the ideas of the time. In the original work Henry James uses the characters of Miles and Flora to show how there are no innocent human beings and the character of the governess to express society's view that all children are innocent. The film The Innocents expresses the same themes as the book but does so by showing Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) as a Bible-beating Samaritan who feels the need to save the children from that which she thinks destroys their Innocence.

         The Innocents shows the governess Miss Giddens as an arrogant daughter of a victor, with a large family, and a small house. By telling the audience these facts, the writers are showing that not only was Miss Giddens naive and sheltered from the life she is now living, but also how she was raised in a Christian family. The film makers have used the character of the overbearing governess in The Turn of the Screw and fashioned Miss Giddens into a judgmental Christian who cannot accept anyway but her own. By morphing the character into a stereotypical arrogant Christian, Archibald and Capote make the character more identifiable to the modern audience of 1961 and tackle the taboo subject of religion in a clever and sensitive way. Capote and Archibald make a wonderful movie by taking the liberty of focusing on a religious version of a judgmental character, while never steering away the original themes of James's The Turn of the Screw.

         The film makers of the 1961 classic The Innocents have done what many have tried and failed; they have made the perfect adaptation of an already brilliant novel. The tools that were intricate in achieving perfection in adaptation was a firm grasp of the original material and the courage of the screenwriters to include their own beliefs on the subject of oppression. By showing the link to religion and Miss Giddens' judgmental ways, the writers help bring in the rebellious movie-goers of the 1960s, while staying true to the original meanings of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. In the future it would be wise for modern screenwriters to use this work as an example of what an adaptation should and can be if the perfection of old is juxtaposed with the ideas of modern society.

Dennis H. Robison

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