The Innocents (1961)
the innocents | jack clayton | william archibald | truman capote | deborah kerr | peter wyngarde | megs jenkins | united kingdom | ghost | haunted | haunted house | based on | novel | henry james | ghosts | michael redgrave | martin stephens | pamela franklin
Film: The Innocents
Director: Jack Clayton
Writer: William Archibald and Truman Capote
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde and Megs Jenkins
This was a film that I’m pretty sure my mother introduced to me. It would have been right after college that I would have seen this and I thought it was solid. It wasn’t until after the fact that I learned it was based off a novella from Henry James which before this second viewing, I have now read. I’ve also seen a more modern take on this source material as well. The synopsis here is a young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.
We begin with a rich man, portrayed by Michael Redgrave. He is looking for a governess to take care of a little girl that he is the guardian of, but he doesn’t have time to take care of himself. Her parents died tragically and she was left in his care. The woman he interviews for this position is Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr). From their talk we can see she is somewhat sheltered and seems nervous as well. She also has never held the position of governess, so there is a lack of experience. What we learn of him, is that he is somewhat heartless and doesn’t care much for the children that he is guardian over. Some thing of note is the fact that the former woman in this position tragically passed away and the little girl saw her.
Miss Giddens goes to the large estate that is out in the country to live and to watch after Flora (Pamela Franklin). She has the carriage stop at the gates and decides to walk up to the manor. As she does, she hears someone calling for Flora. She comes upon the young girl and asks why she didn’t come when she was called, saying she didn’t hear anyone. This puzzles Miss Giddens.
At the manor we also meet some of the other staff. The maid who does most of the work is Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) and she hits it off with Miss Giddens almost immediately. As they all get to know each other, Flora keeps stating that her brother Miles (Martin Stephens) will be coming home soon. This again puzzles Miss Giddens, but they receive word that he was expelled from school she becomes concerned.
As time goes on, we see more and more that Miss Giddens isn’t completely stable. She does get along with both of the children, but she when she sees a strange man on top of a tower, Miles claims to have not seen anyone up there but him. The more that she learns about this estate and the tragic demises of Peter Quint (peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), Miss Giddens believes there spirits are still here. Are they really or is she having a mental breakdown?
That is where I’m going to leave my recap of the movie. Where I want to start is that getting in podcasts has helped me to appreciate this movie. I came to it late as I said, having my first viewing after college. There are many people I listen to and respect their opinions that have grown up with this movie. Having also read the novel does help me to fill in a bit more with this movie as well.
Where I want to start is the character of Miss Giddens. This movie is a character study of her really. The details that I’ve given about her in the beginning are done in a subtle way I found interesting. I picked up on from how she answers questions from the uncle that she is nervous by nature. She also isn’t sure she is truly prepared to take on the role that she has been offered. I can connect with that feeling for sure. The uncle doesn’t seem to notice it as his real big stance on this is to handle everything at the manor out in Bly and to not bother him with it. Those are his expressed wishes. I think that contributes to the madness that Miss Giddens sinks into.
The madness that she is dealing with is where I want to go next. As I’ve said, Kerr does any excellent job with her performance. Seeds are planted that cause her to have the break that she does. Miss Giddens hearing from the uncle that Miss Jessel, the former governess died, causes her to hear someone calling Flora’s name when she arrives. She assumes it is Mrs. Grose. She then sees the man. She can’t see his face. The more she learns about Quint and Miss Jessel, the more she is convinced these are specters she is seeing. It is interesting though that in regards to Quint, she doesn’t know about him until she sees a male on the tower. I like this to make us question if there is something supernatural here or not. I do think that after a second viewing here and reading the novel, I’m pretty confident in what I think is happening here. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but wanted to relay that without force feeding us, it explains it.
Since I’ve already covered Kerr’s performance, I’ll go to the rest of the acting. Jenkins as Mrs. Grose works for me. She is quite nice to her and they get along well. It isn’t until Miss Giddens starts to become erratic that their relationship strains. Despite what Miss Giddens states, she doesn’t seem to have the children’s best interests at heart like Mrs. Grose does. Franklin does a really good job as Flora for me. She is quite young and her performance worked. Same thing with Stephens as Miles, but I will give him more credit for the devious nature he has. Wyngarde and Jessop do a really good job as these specters. They don’t really do a lot aside from staring ahead, but it is quite creepy. The rest of the cast worked for what was needed as well.
Something I just want to briefly go over would be the effects. We don’t really get a lot in this movie, but with the era it came out and the story we are getting, it doesn’t need them. I think the cinematography is strategic in not showing details of Quint until Miss Giddens sees a picture of him. Showing them at a distance, through windows or other things to obscure them also works there as well. The setting helps with the gothic atmosphere that we’re getting here as well.
The last thing then would be the soundtrack. For the most part, the selections fit to help enhance the scenes. What I really wanted to talk about is this recurring song that is used throughout. It starts with Flora humming and singing it. We then learn it is from a music box that belonged to Miss Jessel. There’s another scene where Miles plays it on the piano. I think this is well done to have it haunting Miss Giddens as the movie goes along and she descends into her psychosis.
In conclusion here, I will admit that I liked this movie after the first viewing, but this second viewing and having read the source material makes it better than I remembered. The performance from Kerr really carries this movie with the rest of the cast pushing her to where she ends up. How it is shot really makes some things creepier than it should be and the soundtrack helps there as well. The gothic atmosphere of the setting also helps on top of that. It really is a movie that makes you question, is this place being haunted by the ghosts of these two former workers or is Miss Giddens having a nervous breakdown? Or is it both? I do think we get a conclusion that works as well. For me this is a good movie and one that I would gladly revisit again.
My Rating: 8 out of 10