A Story about a Story about Ghosts

         In every cinematic adaptation of a literary work, creative license is taken for a variety of reasons. In some cases, scenes are cut because of time constraints. In others, the material may be inappropriate--dodging the censors was a common occurrence in early film. However, there are times when a film's goal is to stay as true to the literary source material as possible.

         The Innocents, Jack Clayton's 1961 film adaptation of Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw, seems to have this goal in mind. Unlike William Wyler's 1939 Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontë's 1848 novel, nothing was cut for length. Unlike My Fair Lady (1964), George Cukor's take on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1913), the ending was not changed. Instead, The Innocents stays true to The Turn of the Screw, and in my opinion, is better for it. Of course, there are a few minor differences. For example, The Turn of the Screw depicts Miles and Flora as fair blonde-haired children who seem incapable of ill will; in The Innocents Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin) have dark hair and seem capable of evil. Also, in The Innocents, Flora has a pet turtle named Rupert, which Miles throws through a window during the conclusion. Rupert is absent from The Turn of the Screw. Aside from these minor differences, the basic story remains unchanged.

         Where this connection truly shines is during the frightening moments of the film. When the governess (Deborah Kerr), sees a ghost, or during her walk down the hallway in a search of the children, these scenes make the corresponding parts of the book come to life. The governess's horror feels real in the literary work, but when it is presented in real time by real people, the impact is much greater.

         This sense of realism in action hits even harder during the final scene of Miles' dispossession and subsequent death. To see this scene played out exactly as it happen in The Turn of the Screw adds a powerful conclusion to the already excellent film. No censors to please, no happy twist to give the audience a surprise happy ending, just the ending as written, and knowing that The Innocents stays true to The Turn of the Screw even to the end is something the film makers, unlike so many others, can boast about.

         The Innocents never feels as though it deviates very much or at all from The Turn of the Screw. It is a recognizable adaptation of a literary work through and through, and this added to my enjoyment of the film. Of all the films shown in class, I believe this one best reflects the essence of the original literary work.

Jeremiah Franklin

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