Innocents, The (1961) d. Clayton, Jack (UK)
Deborah Kerr is the prim governess assigned to a country estate to care for two children in this spellbinding screen version of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Upon her arrival, in addition to having her hands full with her duties, she slowly begins to suspect that the spirits of the former valet and governess have begun to influence – or even possess – her youthful charges (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). Can she exorcise their ghosts, or are they her own?
With an eye for hypnotic, symbolic imagery, producer/director Jack Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis conjure a haunting onscreen atmosphere, one where the sunlit scenes are frequently more chilling than those set at night. Truman Capote and William Archibald’s screenplay also introduces layers of sexual frustration, repression and hysteria, which, while eliminating some of the original story’s ambiguity, supply an intriguing psychological angle that modern viewers will appreciate.
Franklin, in her screen debut, is terrific as Flora, while Stephens manages to top his captivating turn from the previous year’s Village of the Damned. But it is Kerr who is the film’s anchor and rudder, and through her brilliant performance, we walk the tightrope between strength and fear, conviction and doubt.
One of the finest ghost stories ever committed to celluloid – not to be missed.