Sunday, 4 December 2011

Unit 3: Environment - Review - Jack Clayton's The Innocents

Figure 1. The Innocents Poster Art

A film based on Henry James 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw” in which a haunted house awakens lunacy on its new occupant or does it? From behind every crisp black and white shot is another startling possibility namely that of sexual frustration. As the questions stack in unison one cannot help but consider that Deborah Kerr’s Miss Gidden’s has gone completely insane.

•Directed by: Jack Clayton
•Written by: Henry James
•Cast: Deborah Kerr as Miss Gidden’s, Peter Wyngarde as Peter Quint, Megs Jenkins as Mrs. Grose, Michael Redgrave as The Uncle, Martin Stephens as Miles, Pamela Franklin as Flora, Clytie Jessop as Miss Jessel & Isla Cameron as Anna.
•Genre: Horror, Mystery, Suspense & Classic
•Duration: 100 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "All I want to do is save the children”

...a noble statement and one that is to be expected from Governess Miss Gidden’s (Deborah Kerr). The situation quickly unwinds as the polite and mild mannered children of the house appear to know and do more than they should. Following an unlikely game of hide and seek Miss Giddens stumbles into a vision of a man and woman who were prior occupants and not very nice people. From there Miss Gidden’s slips further into psychosis hearing and seeing Freudian subtleties as SFX Reviewer Ian Berriman observes:
"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." (Berriman: 2010)
Deborah Kerr’s performance is erratic but completely believable as a woman who has just gone insane. The children themselves (played by Martin Stephens & Pamela Franklin) appear mild mannered but very alien specifically in Miss Gidden’s presence which involve the children blending innocence with sophistry. One could say that one of the most eerie occurrences is when the little Flora watches Miss Gidden’s as she sleeps with a massive smirk on her face.

Figure 3. "Flora didn’t you say last night that Miles was coming home?”

The film is an amazing sight to watch and considering its core elements are that of a ghost story it plays to its strengths rather well. There are even moments when one expects the children to unburden themselves to Miss Gidden it is this which inspires her acceleration of lunacy. The obscenities mouthed by the children when Miss Gidden finally removes her kid gloves leave one contemplating the possibility of possession ascribing to Freud’s definition of the living uncanny:
“We also call a living person uncanny, usually when we ascribe evil motives to him. But that is not all; we must not only credit him with bad intentions but must attribute to these intentions capacity to achieve their aim in virtue of certain special powers.” (Freud, 1919: 149)
The children had a bond, that much is clear; one is drawn particularly to the fact that young Flora knew Miles would be coming home before Miss Gidden’s had even found out. The true Uncanny was not that they were evil but it was that they would not reveal the truth to Miss Gidden causing her to question everything that they told her (e.g. Miles not revealing why he was sent home and the justification behind it). The children’s politeness was therefore considered to be a ruse for something deeper begging the question – were they possessed?

Figure 4. "The children are possessed”

For one to consider possession is to consider that something inside the shell of a person is somewhat incorrect. When we consider a man and woman being reborn in this instance we constitute reincarnation through black magic not some evident evolutionary ideal. The possession claim is therefore only justified by Gidden’s hallucinations of a man and woman behind or near the children. One could consider that above everything else it was Gidden’s fear of the children growing into adulthood before they were ready which caused her to consider such a drastic approach reviewer Caitlin Collins of the Dark Room observes:
“Interestingly, it’s Gidden’s’ cure that kills Miles in the scene above, rather than the ghosts themselves. I prefer, then, to read The Innocents as a cautionary tale about the damaging impact of adult paranoia with regard to children’s sexuality.” (Collins: 2009)
One could even consider what the kiss at the end of the film between Gidden’s and Miles actually stood for. This is probably the only time in the film in which Gidden accepts Miles as an adult which she justifies with a deep kiss to mark the grounds of his maturity. One could consider that Gidden was crying not because Miles was dead but because he had reached the end of his life bypassing his adulthood while seemingly never having a childhood. Miles and Flora were left behind in life first by their parents and then by their uncle only to be inducted into early adulthood. Gidden’s wanted to retrieve their Innocence but in doing so she ended up costing them their adolescence, forcing them to look in the mirror at the monsters they had become.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. The Innocents Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Figure 2. All I want to do is save the children. (com) [Online image]. At: on: 04/12/11)

Figure 3. Flora didn’t you say last night that Miles was coming home? (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Figure 4. The children are possessed. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/12/11)



Berriman, Ian. (2010) Blu-Ray Review – The Innocents. At:
(Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Sigmund, Freud. (1919) Essay on The Uncanny, Penguin Classics, 3rd Edition
(Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Collins, Caitlin. (2009) The Innocents Review At: (Accessed on: 04/12/11)


  1. A really articulate review, Stitch - somehow more plainly-spoken that many of your others - and all the more credible and authoritative as a result.

    typo? 'Miss Gidden’s prescience' - presence?

  2. Doh! Word didnt flag it lol, Glad you enjoyed it Phil... Ill get to fixing the grammer screw up.