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on 17 December 2006
A masterpiece of ghost-story cinema and haunting Victoriana. Wonderful adaptation of 'The Turn of ths Screw'. Takes the stage play 'The Innocents' and transforms it into a cinematic tour-de-force of innocence, corruption, dark secrets and above all ambiguity. The great thing is the ambiguity - the viewer is left to make up their own mind. Are the children being used by the ghosts of the dead servants (as it seems they were used by the servants when alive), are the apparitions real, is it all in the imagination of the repressed and hysterical governess, have the children been abused and corrupted, is it all a work of psychological symbolism (with the old mansion and the ghosts being used as symbols of the abuse of the children's innocence)? There is evidence to support all theories, which is exactly what Henry James intended with his story. Unlike the modern horror films which throw everything at you and don't allow your imagination to work, this film uses suggestion and ambiguity and stimulates your imagination.

The screenplay ('90% by Truman Capote') and script make great use of the old house and the images of decay and corruption amid its beauty and ornate Victoriana to show the dark heart of the tale. The cinematography in black and white cinemascope is used to perfection. The direction and the acting are all perfectly fitted to the story. In all, this creates a wonderful, claustrophobic and chilling world.

The BFI release DVD package is a thing to treasure. Apart from the movie itself there is a filmed intro and a commentary by Christopher Frayling, both of which give loads of fascinating backgound info and interpretation, a copy of Jack Clayton's 1st ever movie, and a lovely booklet.

A real work of art.
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on 16 December 2006
"The Innocents" is director Jack Clayton's screen adaptation of Henry James's story "The Turn of the Screw" (1898). A brilliant and fascinating exercise in psychological horror. Impressionable and repressed governess Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) agrees to tutor two orphaned children, Miles and Flora. On arrival at Bly House, she becomes convinced that the children are possessed by the perverse spirits of former governess Miss Jessel and her lover Quint (Peter Wyngarde) who both met with mysterious deaths.

The film's sinister atmosphere is carefully created through its cinematography, soundtrack, and design: Freddie Francis' beautiful photography, with its eerily indistinct long shots and mysterious manifestations at the edges of the frame; an evocative and spooky soundtrack; and the grand yet decaying Bly House.

Deborah Kerr gives the performance of her career and makes "The Innocents" an intensely unsettling experience. Are the ghosts the products of Miss Giddens' fevered imagination and emotional immaturity, or a displacement of her shock at the sexually precocious behaviour of ten-year-old Miles? Is she the protector or the corrupter?

Now widely considered to be one of the greatest of all ghost stories on film, "The Innocents" continues to inspire today's 'haunted house' movies, most notably "The Others" starring Nicole Kidman and directed by Alejandro Amenábar in 2001.

DVD Extras include a commentary with Professor Christopher Frayling, the original trailer for "The Innocents", the Oscar and BAFTA award-winning short film "The Bespoke Overcoat" directed by Jack Clayton, 1955, 33 mins (Clayton's first film as director) starring Alfie Bass and David Kossoff,

a stills gallery including original costume designs, publicity posters, press books and production pictures and a booklet including film notes by Jeremy Dyson (BBC's "The League of Gentlemen").
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on 4 May 2017
I took this film to watch with friends. It is quite dated but Everyone enjoyed it. Quite spooky!
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This is an over-polite, rather sterile, too clinical, and rather too 'beautiful' version of the convoluted ghost story by Henry James, who never explained what he meant if he could help it, which naturally was his privilege, particularly in a tale such as this one, though I've always found his mode of storytelling maze-like to the point of obscurantism, an arguable fault that this mostly excellent 1961 film mitigates to some extent, though a little to the detriment of the hysterical/sexual enigmas of the original ~ though whether James would agree with any of the above is open to question.
Jack Clayton, who made only a few films of varying quality, chose his cast carefully, and directed with a deadeningly sure touch. Why am I damning with such faint praise? Because this could have let rip so much more ~ not as the dread Michael Winner did in his version, The Nightcomers {with Brando, Stephanie Beacham & Thora Hird!} but simply given the pent-up, hyper-tense material James had laid down in his Victorian tale.
Deborah Kerr is perfect casting as the new governess, sent to a country house to look after Miles and Flora {such faux-innocent names} who may or may not be ~ ah, ghosts!
Then there are the momentary sightings of a man on the turrets of the castle-like country pile where they all live ~ one Peter Quint, whom we never really meet {Peter Wyngarde in a money-for-old-rope non-role}.
The children are played well by Martin Stephens {who now, somewhat aptly, teaches meditation} and the wonderful Pamela Franklin, in her first of many roles, here at the age of eleven. The housekeeper is Megs Jenkins, who couldn't be better.
Seeing what must have seemed like a fine film fifty-odd years ago, I can't help but wish it had more guts, more of a feeling of real life about it. After all, any ghost story has real-life people in it too, living out their real lives. Kerr's governess is very obviously sexually repressed in some way {she is a vicar's daughter, but so what?} so we need a little more of a dramatic/cinematic nudge as to her desires. We get a hint of it, but it isn't enough. The children evidently know, or at least suspect, so why can't we?
The extra feature is a lovely half-hour film from 1956 based on Gogol's classic story The Overcoat, with near-sublime performances by David Kossoff and Alfie Bass. It's a sad, humble little tale, again in b&w, that looks as if it could have been made many years earlier.

There is a figure looking down at us, and at the disturbed governess, from the heights of this remote home counties country house, but he never really descends enough too scare us, or enlighten us.
Still well worth watching though, and one of the better versions of this much-travestied tale.
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The Innocents is one of the most unnerving, unsettling, subtle and well-acted ghost stories you'll ever hope to see.

"If I should die before I wake," says 8-year-old Flora, kneeling at her bedside, "I pray the Lord my soul to take. Miss Giddens," she asks her new governess, "where would the Lord take my soul to?" "To heaven," Miss Giddens tells her. "Are you certain," Flora asks. "Oh, yes, of course, because you are a very good girl." "But I might not be," Flora says. "and if I weren't, wouldn't the Lord just leave me here to walk around? Isn't that what happens to some people?"

In Victorian England, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) has been engaged to be the governess to Flora (Pamela Franklin) and her 10-year-old brother, Miles (Martin Stephens). The children live at Bly, an isolated country estate with a lake, many trees and statues and a huge, stone mansion. Their parents are dead, their uncle lives in London and wants no responsibility for them. They are cared for by Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, two maids and, now, Miss Giddens. The children are eerily precocious with perfect manners and many secrets. Flora is smiling, agreeable and perhaps too alert. Miles seems at times adult beyond his years. He is charming and self-possessed. One evening the shutters slam shut and a candle blows out. "Don't be afraid, my dear," Miles tells Miss Giddens, "it's only the wind." He has been expelled from school for unnamed offences which caused "injuries" to other students.

Miss Giddens soon learns that there previously was in the mansion Peter Quint, the master's valet, who had been left in charge. "It was winter," Mrs. Grose reluctantly tells Miss Giddens, "the coldest, blackest winter night. The steps were icy. He came home late, full of drink. He had a wound on his head as though he might have fallen out there in the dark. There was things in his life that could account for violence done him, vicious things...It was Master Miles who found him. Oh, that poor little boy. If you could have heard his screams, seen the way he clung to him and begged him to speak. The poor little boy worshipped Quint."

Miss Giddens learns of another person, Miss Jessel, the former governess, a woman who became enraptured by Quint. She took his beatings with joy, shared in his pleasure of her in the mansion's rooms, unconcerned with what the children saw. Miss Jessel threw herself in the lake after Quint died. There is not only the presumption of evil, but of moral and sexual corruption infecting the two children through Quint.

The children whisper together, share secrets. Miss Giddens soon sees a faint image of a man on the tower of the house...a woman walking across a landing...a face at a window. "There are two of them," Miss Giddens tells Mrs. Grose, "two of those abominations. The children are playing some monstrous game. I can't pretend to understand what its purpose is. I only know that it is happening...something secretive and whispery and indecent. I tell you, believe me, the children are in dreadful peril." She resolves that the only way she can free the children of the effort by Quint and Miss Jessel to possess them is to force the children to admit what is happening. "The children are possessed. They live and know and share this hell. One word, one word of truth from these children and we can cast out those devils forever."

The conclusion is powerful and tragic.

This movie works so well because of Jack Clayton's unhurried direction, wonderful, eery, black-and-white photography by Freddie Francis, a literate screenplay (from Henry James' The Turn of the Screw) by William Archibald, Truman Capote and John Mortimer, and excellent acting all around. In particular, Deborah Kerr turns in one of the best performances of her career. She trembles on the edge of resolve and her own insecurities. Both the child actors are convincing. Martin Stephens as Miles carries the heaviest burden and he is unsettling as a cool and very disturbed, conflicted boy.
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on 7 March 2010
By far the finest adaptation of novelist Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, director Jack Clayton's exemplary ghost entry The Innocents boasts superb acting from all involved, a literate script from writers William Archibald and Truman Capote and classy production values. The Innocents makes the most of the story's ambiguous plot. What happens to Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) can be interpreted in many different ways, which makes this film an extremely effective psychological ghost story. A brilliant and chilling movie! This film gives me the creeps every time I see it. It has some amazing camera work courtesy of Freddie Francis, and an excellent complicated performance from Deborah Kerr which adds up to one of the best thrillers of the 60's. In fact, I like it better than The Haunting (not that The Haunting was a bad film, it's one of my favorites). The actors who play the kids are also very good, they're precocious and cold... and somewhat unsympathetic. Martin Stephens in particular stands out as the wise, clever little boy who may or may not be possessed. His acting here is on par with his great performance in the original Village of the Damned and he is truly believable. The images of Quint outside of the window and Mrs. Jessel across the lake are really hard to forget and adds to the creepy atmosphere along with the sound effects, which were similar to the ones in The Haunting. The images are hauntingly photographed in this film. As in The Uninvited and Dead of Night, the English countryside mansion here is a perfect setting for such a masterful retelling of James' The Turn of the Screw. You want to be respectfully spooked, in the best tradition? Then watch this brilliant British classic late at night with all the lights off...
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on 17 April 2009
In my opinion this is one of the greatest films ever made. Beautiful, sublime,terifying; it is a work of art from start to finish, and literally transports you into a world of flickering shadow and mystery,but does it with such subtlety it is far more haunting and powerful than scores of other'haunted house' films.The cinematography is mesmerising,almost avnte garde, and the film never seems to date. Deborah kerr's face becomes a harrowed mask of nuanced fear and suspicion and she really should have been oscar nominated for this film, so riveting is her performance. peter wyngarde who plays the spectral presence of peter quint had his own stellar career which included playing the playboy sleuth jason King, and recording a cult surreal album called 'when sex leers it s inquisitive head'!! along with robert wise's 'The Haunting'this is one of the most unsettlingly atmospheric films ever made.
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on 6 November 2015
good to watch on a night in
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on 19 December 2010
With reference to the previous review by "samueltaylor" can we PLEASE clear up this myth once and for all about older movies being released on High Definition formats?

We are constantly hearing uninformed witterings along the lines of "Why bother to release old films on Blu Ray because they weren't shot in High Definition?", with the misconception being that there will therefore be no advantage to watching older movies in HD formats.

This is nonsense. Movies since the dawn of cinema were, and for the most part still are, shot on a substance called film. Film has many more times the resolution of Blu Ray Disc or broadcast HD television, in other words not even Blu Ray is capable of capturing all of the detail in an original film print, no matter how old the film is. Put simply, the image on film is of a higher definition than any domestic High Definition video format such as Blu Ray Disc.

So let's get it clear once and for all, film is of MUCH higher definition than any available domestic HD video format. Any movie, no matter how old, can benefit from a HD/Blu Ray release. The quality is all down to how carefully the studios have preserved, restored and transfered the film prints. Just look at "2001: A Space Odyssey" on Blu Ray - it is a 1968 movie of superior picture quality to some Blu Ray releases of films made in the last five years or so.

And on the subject of "The Innocents"? A superb transfer and well worth a Blu Ray purchase.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 October 2011
Based on Henry James' novel, The Turn Of The Screw, The Innocents is a thoroughly absorbing chiller that pot boils with almost unbearably knowing glee as to what it's doing to the viewer. Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, the lady hired by Michael Redgrave to act as governess to his young niece and nephew. We find ourselves in Victorian England, out on some country estate at Bly Mansion, where the children are angelic and enchanting in equal measure. Yet there's an eeriness hanging over this place and it starts to seemingly play tricks on Miss Giddens' mind, she thinks she sees and hears things. It's only when she talks to housekeeper Mrs Grose (Megs Jenkins), that she starts to piece things together, but worryingly it's the children that appear to be at the root of the problems. Aren't they?

Kerr is fabulous here, carrying an elegant gait around with her, she does a fine line in borderline hysteria caused by something unknown bubbling away under the surface. Filmed on location at Sheffield Park and Gardens, and the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex, this lovely Gothic chiller does justice to its literate source. Being co-scripted by Truman Capote, William Archibald and John Mortimer, that's really not much of a surprise in truth though is it?! Choosing to play on the viewers imagination more than pandering to shocks, director Jack Clayton superbly creates a sort of itchy like sense of dread. He's fully aware that here in and around the Gothic abode, it's more often than not what you don't see - or think you see - that is more frightening.

Ace cinematographer Freddie Francis does a marvellous job with the photography, with deep focus and shadows the order of the day, and with Clayton sharp cutting and dallying with angles; and Georges Auric's sinister music floating around the estate like some spectral peeping tom, the atmosphere created is akin to claustrophobic foreboding. In many ways it's actually an uncomfortable watch, but for all the right reasons, the themes that rumble away are grim in texture, the question of malevolent evil or otherwise is a constant, and fittingly the finale offers up a shocking denouement that is nigh on impossible to shake off. With great performances from the child actors (Pamela Franklin/Martin Stephens) sealing the deal, The Innocents is one of the smartest and most effective chillers to ever have come out of Britain. 9/10
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