Who Are the Innocents?

         In the 1961 film, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, there is some confusion about just who the innocents are. This movie based on the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, makes changes that suggest that the children, Flora (Pamela Franklin), and her brother, Miles (Martin Stephens), are not the innocents they appear to be in the beginning of the novella. I believe the movie shifts to the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) and the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Meg Jenkins), as the innocents.

         I believe that it is obvious from the first appearance of Flora that she is at the very least a mischievous little girl. She appears from out of nowhere and surprises the new governess upon her arrival. Later on we see her attraction to a turtle that she nearly drowns and the butterfly being captured by a spider. There is no pity for the butterfly. Her attraction to this incident shows a thrill over the demise of the butterfly. There does not seem to be anything innocent about her.

         Next we meet Miles. He comes on a little too strong in his friendliness to Miss Giddens. He acts more like a future lover than a child. Later he kisses her on the mouth in a way that is unlike a child. At one point, he even tries to strangle her. There is nothing innocent here either.

         My belief that Mrs. Grose is one of the innocents comes from her unfailing belief in the children. She seems to be innocent to the evil ways of Flora and Miles. She cannot see beyond the fact that they are children and cannot conceive of the possibility that they are evil whether it is through the possession by the dead Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) or from their exposure to these two evil people from their past. It is obvious that she wants to defend them to Miss Giddens no matter what.

         Now for Miss Giddens, the most innocent of them all has led a very sheltered life. It is obvious that she has never experienced the evils of life and knows little about them. She thinks all children are innocent because that is all she has ever seen. We learn at the beginning that she loves children and is looking forward to her first post. She has only the usual nervousness of someone starting something new. She is totally unprepared for what she finds. It is not long before she recognizes the evil that exists in the house but tries to ignore what is going on with the children at first.

         By the end of the movie, both Miss Giddens and Mrs. Grose have had their eyes opened. They both pay a terrible price. Mrs. Grose goes to the end not believing that the children are evil. She implies that Miss Giddens has gone too far and Flora's very sanity is at stake. She leaves with Flora, who is crying and screaming at Miss Giddens. Miss Giddens still believes she can save Miles from the evil Quint and stays behind with him.Through her obsession to save Miles, she loses him to death in the end. At this point there are no innocents left.

Deborah Black

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