The Innocents–True Possession

        In this film adaptation of Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents (1961) takes the story of ghosts and demons and makes them into real life enemies. The film, directed by Jack Clayton, leaves viewers with a sense of eeriness and discomfort at its ending, as it appears that the two children, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens), are truly demon-possessed. This differs greatly from the novel, where readers are unsure whether to believe that the ghosts exist or that the governess is merely crazy.

        The title given to this film is much more fitting than the one given to the novel. “The Innocents” has so many meanings behind the name, and it becomes increasingly ironic throughout the film. Viewers ask themselves the question, “Are Flora and Miles innocent children?”

        The answer seems to be yes and no. In the novella the two remain mysterious, yet unharmed by any outside forces. It is the reader’s responsibility to determine whether or not Flora and Miles are being affected by ghosts, or that they are even aware of any such thing. However, the film causes us to believe that the children are not always being themselves. When we first meet them, they seem to be two very sweet and loving children. However, as they begin to act more secretive, there are signs that show that maybe the children are no longer “The Innocents.” Instead, they become possessed by other spirits, separated from their innocent souls. The film definitely convinces viewers that, unlike the Miles and Flora in the novel, the children in the film are not themselves at all.

        Deborah Kerr, the actress who plays Miss Giddens in the film, did an excellent job of creating conflict between reality and fantasy. Although viewers can obviously observe that the children are acting very strangely, they are still left unsure of whether or not Miss Giddens was completely sane throughout the film. Kerr uses sporadic movements and nervous speech to make viewers question her reliability. However, we are able to question her sanity while still being convinced that what she is seeing throughout the film is really happening. This was a task that Kerr was able to accomplish.

        Overall, the film was very effective in pulling viewers into a world of eeriness and ghostly spirits. The characters of Miles and Flora were very unsettling and discomforting, while the character of Miss Giddens is questionable but also pitied by viewers. By the end of the film, everyone is convinced that there are strange things happening in the mansion and that they are not just merely being imagined by the governess.

Janie Sternberg