When is a ghost story so much more than a tale of spirits and hauntings? I enjoy watching classic movies and Turner Movie Channel is my go to channel when I am unable to sleep, which this past week has been almost every night since November 8, 2016. Is it possible to be possessed by a spirit? This is what this Jack Clayton film tries to answer.
The Innocents is a British supernatural/gothic film that stars Deborah Kerr, Michael Redgrave, Mega Jenkins, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin. Directed and produced by Jack Clayton the film in basses on a Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw, which was published in 1898. It is interesting to note that Truman Capote was one of the screenplay writers. The title of the film is from the Archibald stage adaptation of the novella.
The film, which is featured in black and white, begins when a governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), is hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to look after his orphaned niece and nephew. This is the first governess job for Miss Giddens, but the uncle overlooks this inexperience and lack of professional references because he wants to travel and has no time for children. The uncle’s parting orders to Miss Giddens is a blatant example of his non-commitment to family; “Don’t contact me.” Luckily for Miss Giddens, there is a kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins), who tries to ease Giddens into the role of governess.
The first few days go by without a hitch because Miss Giddens only has little Flora (Pamela Franklin) to care for due to the fact that Flora’s brother, Miles (Martin Stephens) is away at boarding school. Flora is a lovely child and Giddens and the child bond quickly. It isn’t until Miles is expelled from school that things begin to go strange, especially since Flora becomes more secretive now that her older brother is home.
Miles is charming in a mature way that is unsettling. He seems to know when to use his charm and puppy dog eyes to avoid questioning or to distract his governess. Soon after Miles returns home, Miss Giddens begins seeing the spirit of a young woman and a young man. She thinks the children are also able to see these spirits even though the rest of the house staff is oblivious to them. When Miss Giddens describes the two apparitions to the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose tells the young governess who the spirits are. Convinced that the spirits of the former governess, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and the abusive valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), are possessing the children, Miss Giddens decides to take it upon herself to banish the ghosts.
This film presented the possibility that two ghosts were lovers, who may have carried on their sexual escapades in front of the children. Did the spirits return in hopes of uniting and carrying on their illicit affair by possessing the young Miles and Flora? Were the children aware of the ghosts or was the whole thing a figment of Miss Giddens imagination?
Miss Giddens’ inexperience with children left her at a disadvantage and, the uncle’s orders to never contact him left her at the mercy of her naivety. Miss Giddens was a young woman who was clearly out of her element and anything out of the norm of how she expected children to act would have seemed bizarre to her. But, she truly cared for these children and so the blame for their unusual behavior had to be placed at the feet of ghosts.
People like me, who deal with the dead, know that it is possible for a spirit to possess another person, or at the least, have an influence over their emotions. The fact that Miles and Flora behaved strangely could have been due to their knowledge that they were considered unwanted burdens to their uncle. If Miles and Flora had formed an attachment to the former governess, then her suicide must have had a horrific effect on them. What would make the notion of possession feasible is if the children did witness the sexual escapades of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. The children would then be more open to allowing the spirits to enter them.
In the end, Miss Giddens’ desire to save the children led to the death of a child. I was left with the sinking feeling that what we were lead to believe was a haunting was really a case of repressed sexuality. What does that lingering kiss on the lips of the dead boy tell us about Miss Giddens? Sometimes the scariest part of a ghost story isn’t the ghosts. Do you agree?