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on 30 December 2009
This is a brave, ambitious attempt to update 'Turn of the Screw' in order to appeal to a modern audience, and though it is unfortunately undone by the occasional poorly written and cliched lines at critical moments, (where they should have trusted the lasting value of James's writing), and an inability to employ the Jamesian subtlety that is so crucial to the story's great ambiguity, it was always going to be a challenging novel to recreate.

There are many areas where it impresses: It largely overcomes the numerous obstacles of translating the book into a film, which is particularly difficult with this novel due to the large focus on the governess's thoughts and consciousness which in a film possibly could become frustrating and monotonous. The film thus brings in other characters to communicate the governess's thoughts through more lively dialogue. The film's depiction of Quint as a lecherous womaniser is an interesting and effective embellishment to James's character, even if it comes at the cost of much of the mystery that surrounds him in the novel. So too by presenting Miss Jessel as a real woman who solicitated Quint's advancements, the film expands her role to mirror the sexual desires we perceive in the governess.

The casting of these character is excellent, and the casting of the children even more so, as they perfectly match the characters presented in the novel, though Miles provides a more obstinate character, without the subtle cunning of his depiction in the novel. Unfortunately, though I feel the film ruins these characters by giving them the profanities of Jessel and Quint's to speak aloud. This imposes several limits upon the film; it becomes harder to see the apparitions as a possible hallucination of the governess when the children voice their profanities, (even if this is merely the governess's imagination). Furthermore, it is a great stretch of the imagination to see such angelic children voicing such profanities at their governess, and massively undoes the subtlety with which James suggests that conspiracy against the governess. Consequently, the children's involvement with the ghosts appears confirmed. Furthermore, despite the fact that the film makes great attempt to communicate to the reader the psychological conundrum at the heart of the novel, (as to whether the ghosts are real or a figment of the governess's imagination,) when the children begin to suddenly echo the ghosts' profanities the reality of the ghosts also seems without doubt; thus the great subtlety which has become the quintessential feature of the novel is almost inexistent in the film.

Finally the setting is wonderful, perfectly selected and wonderfully filmed to bring to life the chilling apparitions with powerful effect. However, yet again the film fails to employ James's subtlety. In the novel Bly is imbued with a "summer sweetness", and to begin with the governess is swept up in joy and love for the children; there is no element of superstition until the governess, and we, are entirely at home in our surroundings. Yet in the film, the first meeting with Flora is layered in suspense and superstition, the house echoing in ghostly whispers, the grounds not peaceful, but deeply unsettling. And why is this important? Because as a result, the film's Bly becomes the 'Other' house of our nightmares, terrifying, but far enough away in our imagination to be but a distant fear. By contrast the novel plays on what Freud would later come to define as the "uncanny", by presenting Bly as a wonderful, home-like residence, and then, once were are settled in with the governess's in her wonderful new life, the horror unveils. Thus, James brings the unhomely ghosts into the home and the result is deeply haunting; we are left with the sense that this story could happen anywhere, in our very own homes. This is what the story lacks, that truly haunting quality that the novel achieves through its subtle references and reinforced ambiguity. It is to conclude, a creative attempt to recreate one of the greatest ghost stories written, but ultimately one which falls far short of the novel's great precedent.
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on 3 January 2010
Having seen "The Innocents", the 1961 adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw", I couldn't watch this without comparing the two, and this modern interpretation does not come off well in the comparison, in my view. The most glaring problem of this adaptation is its complete inability to appreciate that subtlety and ambiguity are central to the enduring power of James' original novella. This is apparent from the very beginning of the film: thus, as soon as the governess arrives, she is met with hostility from the staff of Bly, for no reason, and it is within minutes of her arrival that the whispering and unexplained noises start. Flora first appears dressed in white, gliding silently into view and staring at the governess from behind without announcing her presence, thus immediately making her a figure of sinister import in a far too explicit manner.

At the same time, though, the governess' mental state is brought into question far earlier and in a far more obvious manner than the original. She is clearly besotted with her employer, and hallucinates his presence on one occasion early in the film. The makers seem worried that viewers will not get the implications of James' story, and make everything explicit, making the story seem muddled rather than ambiguous.

Worst of all, though, in my view, is the interspersion of scenes of the governess with a psychiatrist after her experiences at Bly, where psychology of the most cod variety is applied to suck the life out of the story. She hated her father, we are told, and such, in an attempt to wrap her character up in a neat package, and reducing her to a type, rather than an individual. The facile explanations are at odds with James' approach, and represent a considerable dumbing-down of the material.

In summation, my advice is to give this one a miss, and watch "The Innocents" instead, a seriously chilling film that strikes an effective balance between exposition and suggestion, and is one of the best cinematic ghost stories ever.
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on 31 January 2015
Dreadful adaptation ... apparently, judging by the other reviews, nobody read the novella and that is why the BBC got away with it! Different ending, different approach, bad acting, silly and shallow dialog...a "Ghost story for dummies"...
If you want to make a movie about a stupid woman who gets convicted of a crime, go ahead, but no way that was in James' text!!
If you don't want to read the book, watch The Innocents
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Admittedly, I have not read the original by Henry James, but I was hooked by this BBC adaptation. The story is about a young governess who goes to a house full of women to look after two children, Miles and Flora. Although her new position seems welcoming enough, she soon suspects that there is a history to the house. A history which involves the children in some way...

What I loved about this adaptation is that the answers were not clearly there for the audience. Was the governess mad or was she indeed involved in a haunting? I think you could watch this and easily make a good argument for both. The acting, of course, goes a long way in creating this ambiguity. All performances are excellent, both the children and the adults.

I don't want to say much more than that, I would rather people discover this for themselves. Highly recommended. My only regret - not reading the original beforehand perhaps. Although off the back of this, I shall definitely be checking that out too.
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on 23 February 2013
What genius that MR James was! I have read the story over and over again, I have seen different versions of the film, among them this one with some very well-known faces. I don't think anyone can fail to make a bad version of the film. I saw the one with Deborah Kerr years ago, it was in black and white and she never had anything to do with the asylum, but the menace and chilling atmosphere, partly because there was such a contrast between the beauty and the horror, the loneliness of the governess, the evil longing of the former governess for the dead butler, there was no need for special effects etc. All that was required was for the audience to watch in terror for what was round the corner! In this film with Michelle Dockery, apart from the poor governess ending up totally mad, possession was the subject of the film, but in this version, the girl is not freed from the evil. All I can say, is that it is an excellent ghost story, and the film is worth 4 stars. However, if anyone gets the chance to see the one with Deborah Kerr in it, do so!
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on 28 July 2011
THE TURN OF THE SCREW is a chilling ghost story that will haunt you long after it has finished! The acting was superb, classical! The two children played their parts wonderfully! Some of the storyline got a bit lost in ridiculous excuses for strange happenings, but apart from that this chilling horror was almost perfect! If you want good acting and a truly haunting setting, then this is definately for you! A fantastic chiller! 8/10!
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Lets face it, there have been many adaptations of Henry James' classic novella over the years, each having their own merits. When I first heard that the BBC had a new adaptation to be broadcast set in post World War 1 Britain my first thought was, Sarah Waters' 'The Little Stranger' has sold its film rights and so the Beeb can't produce it. But after watching this I now think differently.

If you were to think that this was a by the numbers adaptation just set in a more modern period, you would be wrong. There are some alterations to the original story, but that doesn't detract from the tale, but adds a new development. 'The Turn of the Screw' is one of my favourite all time works, and so I am always a bit dubious when watching a screen version of it, especially as I have read the book so many times over the years. Depending what mood I am in I either read it as a straight forward supernatural tale, or as a psychological thriller with a deranged governess. Sandy Welch has here obviously taken some time over this and has incorporated both approaches into this version, giving it that fresh uneasiness that you have when you first read the story. Purists may be put off by this, especially as there are some scenes of a mild sexual nature; but these add to the thing as a whole.

Beautifully filmed, with some unusual camera shots, and wonderfully acted throughout - especially by the chid actors, there are some twists here, like the governess being in an asylum, and you are left with doubts of whether she is mad, or whether indeed there are supernatural forces at work. All in all this a good drama to watch that will definitely get under your skin.
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on 5 November 2015
This is a BC drama and I expected great things - as they usually come up with great things. However, I was very disappointed with this version. The two children were very good but overall it lacked atmosphere and tension and wasn't in the slightest creepy or scary in any way. Rather it was pretty dull and pedestrian. I would much more recommend the Deborah Carr "The Innocents" version for drama, creepiness and brilliant atmosphere and avoid this dull version of the tale.
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on 21 February 2010
I first saw Michelle Dockery in Hogfather and was so impressed by her performance that i started to watch whatever i could that she was in. Turn of the Screw is yet another example of Michelle's fantastic acting. The story is underplayed and the directing of TOTS is handled with less skill than a film designed to elicit fear should have. Scares are missed by clumsy editing and bad choice of shot sequence but the acting is firm and in most cases strong. The pay off for the story to the uninitiated (such as myself) is less rewarding that might be imagined and i suspect this is not down to a mis-step by the writer or director but to the material itself being old and out of date. In todays world of film and television we have seen so much similar to this style of story before that any shocks that migth have been rendered and delivered with flat punches.

In short, worth a watch due to the fine performances but mishandled by it's creators.
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on 3 January 2010
for the festive season being revived with The Turn Of The Screw. Older viewers may recall the BBC adaptations in the 70s(The Signalman starring Denholm Elliott has stayed with me for 30 years+) The story is set in an isolated (always important)grand house where a young woman accepts the job as a nanny to two seemingly innocent children. The setting is wonderfull and very atmospheric with the underlying air of menace constant. Dont read too much into the pros and cons as other reviewers appear to have done, just sit back and enjoy 90 minutes of entertainment and distraction.
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