Directed by: Jack Clayton
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom, United States
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 100 mins
Released: 11 December 2006
Cat No: BFIVD675
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Also available on Blu-ray
Deborah Kerr stars in this 1961 adaptation of the psychological horror novella ’The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James. After coming to... Read More
A brilliant adaptation of Henry James' classic novella ‘The Turn Of The Screw’, The Innocents is one of the best ghost stories ever filmed. Beginning with the sinister sound of a child singing, followed by the apparently deranged whisperings of an anxious woman, the film unsettles the viewer from the very start, and increases the unease until the terrifying end.
A governess (Deborah Kerr, in her finest hour) is employed to look after two orphaned children by their uncle (Michael Redgrave), on the condition she never bothers him regarding their welfare. She travels to the family's beautiful country mansion and immediately bonds with the children, but things soon turn ominous when the apparently angelic boy is inexplicably expelled, and she begins to suspect that the children may be possessed by two former, deceased employees.
The film's restrained depiction of the action works terrifically well, and even the apparently tranquil scenes flow with foreboding; the schmaltzy banter with the children when the governess first arrives at the house is creepy in itself, as they praise her beauty and she immediately succumbs to the hollow flattery. Her personal mantra ‘but above anything else, I love the children’ rings like a fraught rant rather than an affirmation of affection, and the film subtly hints that the scares may be the fevered imaginings of a disturbed woman. Kerr is perfectly cast as the repressed governess struggling to keep hysteria at bay, and her gradual descent into panic is harrowing to behold.
These creepy scenes are nothing compared to the film's chilling set pieces - the scene where Kerr hides behind the curtain when playing with the children will haunt many nightmares, as will the unleashed terror of the final few scenes. The use of sound adds immeasurably to the tension - seemingly innocuous noises (birdsong, a buzzing fly, the children's giggles) take on a menacing edge, and one sequence, in which murmuring voices crescendo into a terrifying blare as the governess spins around in desperation, is masterly. Freddie Francis' superb black and white cinematography adds immeasurably to the atmosphere, with even the scenes in broad daylight evoking uncertainty.