(vt The Turn of the Screw) UK movie (1961). 20th Century-Fox/Achilles. Pr Jack Clayton. Exec pr Albert Fennell. Dir Clayton. Screenplay William Archibald, Truman Capote, John Mortimer. Based on "The Turn of the Screw" (1898) by Henry James. Starring Pamela Franklin (Flora), Megs Jenkins (Mrs Grose), Clytie Jessop (Mary Jessel), Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens), Michael Redgrave (The Uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint). 99 mins. B/w.
Giddens is hired by a rich man about town (the Uncle) to be governess to his orphaned niece and nephew, Flora and Miles, at his country mansion, Bly. As she will discover, her predecessor, Jessel, committed suicide after the accidental death of the Uncle's valet, Quint, with whom she had been having a flagrant liaison; but when Giddens arrives all seems idyllic. Flora announces that soon Miles will be with them also, and news duly arrives that the lad has been expelled from school. But he seems as charming as his sister, until Giddens detects something sinister, malicious, behind the Children's beguiling smiles. Numerous uncanny events, including sightings of the Ghosts of Jessel and Quint, persuade her the two dead lovers have possessed (> Possession) the Souls of the two "innocents". As Exorcism she believes the children must be forced to confront this; but, in denouncing the apparition of Quint, Miles dies . . . leaving Giddens to confront, perhaps, an ugly truth of her own: that all has been a hallucinated product of her repressed sexual attraction to the Uncle.
James's original was clearly open to interpretation as a Rationalized Fantasy. This is less plausible for TI, although its closing scene, with Giddens passionately kissing the lips of the dead Miles, can certainly be read as a Slingshot Ending directed towards such an interpretation – and Kerr's performance as Giddens is superbly couched such as to support this hindsight recasting of the tale as a fantasy of Perception, a Psychological Thriller. But otherwise TI is an excellently chilling Ghost Story. The use of b/w and, especially, the deployment of silence skilfully further this end. [JG]
see also: The Nightcomers (1971).