Have you ever wanted someone that did not seem interested in you? Many people come up with ideas of how to get the person's attention or get his or her love. That is the underlying theme of Henry James's 1898 book, The Turn of the Screw. It is characterized as a ghost story, but actually it is a twisted love and passion story. The 1961 film version of James's book, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, shows some of the aspects of the love story but more of the ghost story. In both the book and film versions, the governess is attracted to the children's uncle, who hires her. It is kind of love or lust at first sight. She is a young women, out on her own for the first time; and here is a handsome, rich, powerful, single man. What girl would not be in awe of him? The uncle, on the other hand, wants to stay single and have nothing to do with the children and Bly house, in which the children live. This is the point that the story begins.
In the book version the reader gets more involved and can see how the governess likes the uncle and thinks that the children are the best way to get to him. So she arrives at Bly to be greeted by the sweetest little girl, Flora, and later on by Miles. These children are so sweet and innocent that something must be wrong with them but what? Then one evening the governess takes a walk; and, with her new unfamiliar surroundings, she thinks she sees someone. Who knows if someone was actually there, but everyone does see thing every now and then, when he or she is in a new or unfamiliar place.
The governess tells Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, what she has seen and learned of the story of the former valet, Peter Quint. This plays right into the hands of the governess, who uses the story against the children in order to worry the uncle and to bring him to Bly. So she plays on Mrs. Grose, trying to convince her that the children see, communicate, and are even taken over by the ghosts, at times. The governess always claims that she has an active imagination, which she is using to develop the real story between the ghosts and the children.
She even goes as far as to try to exorcise the ghosts out of the children. At this point one begins to wonder if the governess has really started believing in the ghosts. In the end the governess, ends up scaring Flora to the point that Flora hates her governess and frightening Miles so badly that he dies. The governess' plan has not worked out as planned or has it? The story ends there.
In the film version the uncle (Michael Redgrave) does not play any big role or is not mentioned very much by the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr). One does not get the feeling that she is in awe of him; she is more interested in the children and the ghost. The main aspect of the movie version is the relationship of the children, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens) before and after the death of their old governess, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and the valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde). The movie is more of a ghost story, and one begins to believe the ghost may be real, instead of being an image of Miss Giddens' mind.
Also in the movie version Miss Giddens is an older lady, around forty, not around twenty as in the book version, so the image of a young inexperienced girl we get in the book is not displayed in the movie. This takes away from the idea of the young girl being in love with the uncle and developing the crazy idea to get him to Bly. Miles' character gets to become the object of Miss Giddens' passion, which is gross. I would have much rather enjoyed Miss Giddens' kissing with an open mouth the uncle instead of the ten-year-old Miles.
In both versions we never learn if Miss Giddens' plan works out or even if the ghosts are real. The story ends in the same way in both versions: Miles dies in the governess' arms, which leaves the audience asking if the ghosts are real, and how could that death have happened? Maybe Flora and Miss Giddens had a plan to get the uncle to Bly, so that
they could live happily ever after, but Miles had not been a part of the picture, so he was scared to death. Who knows the real purpose behind the story, but that is what makes it such a great story. We will never know the final ending to the story, so who are really the innocents?