In the 1961 film, The Innocents (directed by Jack Clayton), many of the scenes seem to jump from the screen and burn themselves forever into our minds. There is the one where Quint (Peter Wyngarde) is starring at Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) through the window. Another is Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) standing among the cattails, while Flora (Pamela Franklin) goes mad. Almost any of the scenes inside the house, which seems to be more alive than its ghostly inhabitants, leave us with an impression of doom and dread. But one scene in particular, the kiss between Miles (the young Martin Stephens) and Miss Giddens, is the most ghastly.
Although filmed in England, this adaptation of Henry James's 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw pulls out all the Hollywood stops of the era. It is a grander house than the book describes. The gardens are lovelier, even in black and white. The sound effects are both appropriate and overwhelming. The film also does not give the viewer much of an option other than to believe, along with Miss Giddens, that the ghosts are actually there to take the children's souls. The book, on the other hand, gives its readers some room to decide for themselves.
But it is that kiss that gives the most direct evidence that Miss Giddens is suffering from an unstable personality disorder. Please do not get me wrong. I am not of the religious belief that a mother should not kiss her male children on the mouth. It is my understanding that some denominations of Christianity frown on this. I do, however, feel that there are degrees of mouth-to-mouth kissing; and the movie definitely portrays a kiss that crosses maternal boundaries. And that is what Miss Giddens is there for: to be a mother of sorts for these children.
With the subject of religion at hand, Miss Giddens' own upbringing can be taken into account. Her father was a minister. This suggests that Miss Giddens' youth was one of condemnation of evil, rather than acceptance of other ideologies. Even if those ghosts are real, how does she know that they are there to harm the children rather than watch over them? I feel sure her father's church did not teach of good spirits roaming the earth to protect the ones they loved during their own lives. And if this is the case, perhaps the ghosts are protecting the children from Miss Giddens herself. She could be rationalizing her pedophilic behavior because she is protecting these children from evil spirits.
Miss Giddens seems in some ways a child herself. It is if she is stunted emotionally. Certainly this is due to her age and absence of a husband or lover. Combine this with a background of religious fanaticism, and you have a governess not fit to care for any charge.