British Cinema, Horror

The Innocents (1961)

For me, this is the greatest British horror film. When I think of haunted houses this film is the first to spring to mind. The film is based on Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw. Repressed Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr)becomes the new governess to adorable siblings Flora and Miles (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). As time goes on, she begins to suspect that they are possessed by the souls of two dead former servants Quint and Miss Jessel(Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop.) Miles acts like an adult, there is something not right about him at all; for one so young Stephens very adeptly conveys a wisdom and worldliness way beyond his years, and does so in a very unsettling way indeed. Miles and Flora seem almost telepathically linked, which adds even more creepiness to the proceedings. Miss Giddens begins to see ghosts, or does she?

It is this ambiguity regarding the ghosts that makes this film so effective. You can view this in two ways: Miss Giddens really does see the ghosts, and the children are possessed; or Miss Giddens is suffering a mental breakdown and imaging the whole thing. Either scenario is terrifying and whichever you believe(I actually believe that it is a combination of both)is scary and makes the ending shocking and sad.

I think the children were corrupted by the things they saw the servants do together, so it has affected their behaviour, they were also the only companions the children had ever known, so they try and imitate them even after their death, isn’t this another form of possession? Miss Giddens hears about the servants and begins to fear them and see them, I think she really does see them, but whether they are actually real ghosts or just her fears manifesting I wouldn’t like to say, to her they are real apparitions.

This is the type of horror I like best, where you’re not sure if you glimpsed something in the corner of your eye, or if something just brushed past a character causing a candle to flicker. I much prefer psychological horror to gore, and this film certainly makes you think and really creeps you out.

Kerr gives one of her best performances here, it is a real shame she never got another role like this again. Beautiful costumes, a stunning garden location (Sheffield Park Gardens)and a gothic atmosphere all combine to make The Innocents a must see. Perfect viewing for a rainy day, or dark night.

My favourite scenes are the ghost sighting in the lake, Miss Giddens first walk around the beautiful gardens, the conversation between Miss Giddens and Miles where she is convinced he is possessed, and the scene where Miss Giddens walks around the corridors with a candle hearing laughter.




4 thoughts on “The Innocents (1961)”

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