Warm Kisses from the Governess

     In the 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, the two open-mouth kisses given to little Miles (Martin Stephens) from the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) had to bring shock waves through the audience. These two open-mouth kisses, definitely not part of Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, brought shock to my face while watching the movie, and I was seeing it forty years after its debut.

     Times have definitely changed since 1961, but a thirty-something actor giving a French kiss to a young adolescent boy still leaves one wondering how the director got away with such a racy act. I guess back in the sixties, audiences of The Innocents played these kisses off as another case of Mrs. Robinson, or they just did not notice them because kissing young boys may have been acceptable for that time period. These little kisses definitely caught me off guard. The first kiss came when Miles kissed Miss Giddens, while she was putting him to bed. This was not just a regular good-night kiss, though, because both people involved had their mouths open. The end of the movie was also shocking because Miss Giddens passionately kissed dead Miles, screaming that he is finally free. It is hard to believe that a movie made back in 1961 with such a radical ending did not stir up any controversy.

     I now realize after careful thought and consideration why she kissed Miles as she did. I believe that Miss Giddens was totally infatuated with the fact that the former governess, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), and her lover, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), had died at the house. After hearing from Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) the story of the relationship Miss Jessel had had with Quint, I believe that Miss Giddens was trying to revive that relationship through Miles. Miss Giddens was trying to portray the former governess, Miss Jessel, and thought Miles was Peter Quint incarnate. That is the reason Miss Jessel told Mrs. Grose that the ghosts were trying to enter the bodies of Miles and Flora to reenact their affair. I think that the governess became so wrapped up in the story that she felt the ghost of Peter Quint had entered Miles' body and that she needed to play the role of Miss Jessel to help their love survive.

     The governess showed her insanity from the beginning of the movie when she arrived at the cottage and heard voices as she was strolling down the driveway. As the movie went on, her behavior became more and more bizarre until she climaxed it at the ending with her French-kissing a dead child.

Cullan Couleas

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