BLU-RAY REVIEW The Innocents
Has she got a screw loose?
1961 * 12 * 96 mins * £24.99 * 23 August 2010
Director: Jack Clayton
Cast: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave
Adapting Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn Of The Screw is a tricky business to pull off, as anyone who saw the feeble effort aired on BBC One at Christmas will know. That’s largely due to the ambiguity of the piece: is it a ghost story, or the tale of a woman losing her mind as repressed desires bubble to the surface? Both interpretations are equally valid.
Deborah Kerr plays the Governess sent to a country estate, charged with looking after two young children by their distant, uninterested Uncle. She learns that her predecessor was involved in a liaison with Quint, her master’s brutal valet. Both died in mysterious circumstances. Slowly, she becomes convinced that her young charges have been possessed by their corrupting spirits…
It succeeds because of the combined efforts of a constellation of talents. A 40-year-old Deborah Kerr is, frankly, far too old for an ingénue role like this, but you forgive that, thanks to her ability to sell the “ghostly” visitations with a spooked visage, and the masterful way she dials up the Governess’s mania. As little Miles, the preternaturally mature little boy whose relationship with his guardian verges on the indecent (especially when they share a kiss full on the mouth…), young Martin Stephens (equally uncanny as the lead child in Village Of The Damned), is remarkably sinister.
Director Jack Clayton further stirs the whirlpool of Freudian undercurrents by devising images pregnant with potent symbolism – a beetle crawling out of a statue’s mouth, for example. But the real triumph here is the work of cinematographer Freddie Francis, with its deep focus and gloomy shadows (and that crisp black and white imagery has never looked better). Thanks to him, even moments that could have seemed hokey – curtains billowing furiously in the wind as thunder cracks outside – have an uncanny charge.
All the scholarly extras from the 2006 DVD release are here. Academic Christopher Frayling provides an incredibly informative, erudite commentary, repeating the choicest facts in an equally fascinating introduction, shot at Sheffield Park House (main location for the exteriors). Also carried over: The Bespoke Overcoat (an Oscar-winning short directed by Jack Clayton), a rather cheesy American trailer, and a 30-page booklet which includes an appreciation by The League Of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson. There are two new additions for this high-def edition: “Designed By Motley” (14 mins) sees a film historian talking over the costume design sketches, and there’s another Clayton short – a wartime propaganda piece about the destruction of Naples.