Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald and Truman Capote; additional dialogue by John Mortimer; from the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James
Achilles/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Here is a beautiful, scary, and ambiguous ghost story for adults.
Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) seeks employment as a governess, having just left the household of her father, a fundamentalist preacher. “The Uncle” (Michael Redgrave) hires her to care for his two orphan wards despite her total lack of experience. He admittedly has little to no interest in his charges, preferring to carouse in town. Miss Giddens gets the job based on her earnestness and professed love of children. Omninously, she is replacing a young governess who died on the job. The Uncle gives her total control of the household.
“The Uncle’s” country estate seems like a dream come true to Miss Giddens. She instantly warms to little Flora and the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins). Flora’s brother Miles is away at school but Flora uncannily predicts his quick return. Sure enough, a letter arrives announcing Miles’s expulsion due to his bad influence on the other boys. The mystery of what exactly Miles did wrong will consume Miss Giddens for the rest of the film.
Miss Giddens begins seeing visions of people she identifies as Miss Jessel, the former governess, and Peter Quint, a former groundskeeper, also deceased. As time goes on, she comes to believe these apparitions have possessed the children and that it is her duty to “save” them. Is she going mad or could her visions be real?
I find twisted little children to be inherently scary and we get them here in spades. Add in the ghosts and you have something special. The cinematography and art direction combine to make the film a visual feast. This was reportedly Deborah Kerr’s favorite of all her film performances which is really saying something. Recommended.