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United Kingdom 1961
Directed by
Jack Clayton
96 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Innocents, The (1961)

Deborah Kerr plays a young novice governess, Miss Giddens (surely an ill-judged choice of name) hired by uber-wealthy man-about-town (Michael Redgrave) to care for his young orphaned cousins, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens) who he has sequestered on his country estate. Initially all looks well but Miss Giddens starts to see ghostly apparitions and suspects the children are under a malign influence.

Adapted by William Archibald and Truman Capote with contributions by John Mortimer (creator of Rumpole Of The Bailey) from a much-filmed Henry James 1898 novel, "The Turn of the Screw", The Innocents was awarded Best British Film by the equivalent of the British Academy Awards and although the squeaky voiced, toffy little children tend to grate Clayton’s adaptation is an effectively creepy horror story that relies for its effect on psychological ambiguity rather than special effects.

The film plays with the audience’s certainty about whether the children are indeed evil little horrors or whether Miss Giddens is suffering from delusions, seeming now to favour one interpretation, then the other and cleverly using the verbal and visual means at its disposal to do so (did Miles break his pigeon’s neck or not? Either way the disturbing doubt and sense of impending horror is created),

James’s novel has been called the first Freudian ghost story and the film with quite surprising frankness introduces what for its time was no doubt a controversial idea, that of the governess’s sexual attraction to her young male charge. It is a pity the film was not made in colour as some of the compositions, particularly those set on the wonderful estate are quite ravishing and it's little surprise that cinematographer Freddie Francis, who would later embark on his own career as a horror director, won an Academy Award for his work. For today's horror fans, The Innocents would barely deserve the genre classification but it is an example of British film-making at its best.

DVD Extras: A particularly delightful extra is Clayton's 1956 Oscar-winning short film, The Bespoke Overcoat; Still Gallery

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment

 

 

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