The Turn of the Screw: Or Perhaps The Turn of the Innocents

     Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, leaves enough to the imagination that one can believe anything is possible. The governess, who was assigned to the role of a solid presence in the house by the uncle of the children, gives one hope that she will be able to help the children overcome their emotional neglect. Unfortunately, this bright start dims slowly as time goes on. Henry James gradually turns the wheel of innocence in the young governess so that she turns into a very questionable dark lady. Henry James continues to turn this imaginary wheel from daylight to dark with Miles' and Flora's behavior. Flora presents herself as an innocent little girl that later turns collaborator with her brother and his devious plans (i.e. her ploy of staring out the window so the governess will see Miles outside when he should not be). Miles, on the other hand, seems to act indifferent to the past, while slowly revealing his deviousness with his apparent plans to play on the governess' mind (i.e. when he ignores her questioning about his dismissal from school to make her think he could not have possibly done anything wrong). The only character in the book who seems to stay the same without revealing a darker side, is the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose.

     Jack Clayton's 1961 movie, The Innocents, takes away a lot of the imagination one felt when reading The Turn of the Screw. Martin Stephen (as Miles) and Pamela Franklin (as Flora) take out the element of denial that perhaps the children might not be as bad as Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) imagines. Miles and Flora turn the character wheel from light to dark much more quickly in the film than in the book. Hints of a darker side to Flora are evident in the movie from the first scene of Flora weaving through the grounds and purposely leaving Miss Giddens alone to find her way to the house.

     The blank looks Miles gives Miss Giddens to her questions on the way home from being expelled from school depict a deceitfulness that has only just begun. This deceitfulness by omission is not as readily evident in the book until Miss Giddens has been settled in the house for several days. The hints at a darker side of their character increase as the movie progresses. Martin Stephen and Pamela Franklin portray their respective characters' changes not only with words but also with excellent body language. Some of the "clueless" looks Flora gives Miss Giddens in their bedroom and Miles' "indifferent" shrugs when questioned about his absences, are very deceptively convincing of an appearance of innocence.

     Because of these alterations in the children and the governess, Jack Clayton could have more aptly named this movie The Turn of the Innocents.

Julie Kinder

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