Film / The Innocents

"Enter my lord. Come from your prison. Come from your grave, for the moon is arisen. Welcome, my lord."

The Innocents is a 1961 British horror film directed by Jack Clayton and starring Deborah Kerr. It is adapted from Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw.

Miss Giddens (Kerr), a young governess in her first position, is sent to look after two children at a country manor called Bly. At first Miss Giddens loves the house and gets along wonderfully with the two children, but she soon starts to see other people in the house. When she sees a man up close, she describes him to the housekeeper and is informed that the man in question died over a year ago. The man was Peter Quint, the master's valet. Upon learning that Quint was in a torrid relationship with the previous governess Miss Jessel (also deceased), she starts to see her ghost too. Miss Giddens becomes convinced that the two servants are trying to possess the children.

The film is notable for leaving the existence of the ghosts up to debate; it's never confirmed whether the ghosts are real or a product of Miss Giddens' imagination (like in Henry James' original book). It has also been the basis for other horror films such as The Others with Nicole Kidman, and its soundtrack was sampled for the cursed tape in The Ring. Deborah Kerr considered this to be her best performance, calling the film "criminally underrated".

The Innocents provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The estate of Bly, a non-human example. In the book Bly is described as being fairly ugly. In the film it's a gorgeous house full of quirky architectural details and with grounds overflowing with flowers and life.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Peter Quint was red haired in the book but is dark haired in the film (it's in black and white but Miss Giddens says he has dark hair).
  • Big Damn Kiss: Miles asks Miss Giddens to kiss him goodnight - and plants one of these on her. Startling the hell out of her.
  • Big Fancy House: Bly is full of lavish rooms and long corridors decorated with all sorts of finery.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Flora is a curious example. She's the only character always shown wearing white and, while she may or may not be evil, she is definitely mischievous and she does have a rather dark sense of humour.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Inverted. The boy who got sent away to school was expelled because he was the one scaring all the students.
  • Body Motifs: Hands. The film opens up with a pair of old, wrinkly hands brought together in prayer. When Miss Giddens discovers the statue of a cherub beneath a large rose bush, viewers can notice that he's holding a pair of disembodied, smaller hands in his own.
  • The Casanova: The uncle is said to be this. Miles has elements of it as well.
  • Cerebus Call Back: Flora's pet tortoise Rupert is the subject of some lighthearted moments early on in the film. He appears again near the end where Miles throws him through the greenhouse wall in a fit of rage.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Miss Giddens tells the Uncle that she does have a very big imagination. This proves essential to the plot, where she may or may not be imagining the children being possessed by ghosts.
  • Children Are Innocent: Flora talks about a time where she felt bad that so many of the rooms in the house were unused and describes Mrs Grose as being "quite startled" when she wished it was possible to sleep in several rooms at once. Oh Flora...
  • The City vs. the Country: The uncle defies this, refusing to move to his country home to look after the children and instead hiring other people to look after them.
  • Creepy Child: Both of them. Flora has her humming of the song "Willow Waly" to herself and responding to questions she doesn't like with "I don't think I remember". Miles with giving Miss Giddens a long, lingering kiss and being played by Martin Stephens (from Village of the Damned).
  • Creepy Doll: Flora's wax doll.
  • Dark Reprise: The song "Willow Waly" is a little creepy at the start but gets even worse as it's discovered Miss Jessel used to sing it to Flora.
  • Destructive Romance: Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.
  • Dies Wide Open:
    • Miles in the final scene.
    • Peter Quint also reportedly died this way. For added creepy factor, Miles was the one that found him.
  • Dream Melody: Miss Giddens, as a result of hearing Flora humming "Willow Waly" at night.
  • Driven to Suicide: Miss Jessel drowned herself in the lake after Quint died.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Flower Motif: White roses with falling petals appear in several key scenes throughout the film to symbolize the corruption of purity. It's also crossed with Animal Motif, as Miss Giddens moves away the branches of a rose bush to discover the statue of a little cherub. At first, she is charmed, but recoils in disgust when a large, ugly insect falls from its mouth...
  • Foreshadowing: "Sometimes waking a child from a bad dream is worse than the nightmare. It's the shock..."
  • Freudian Excuse: Whether or not the children are possessed, it's understandable they aren't the best behaved little people. First of all, they're orphans and can't be any older than eight years old. Secondly their only living relative couldn't care less about them and doesn't bother to take care of them. Third of all, they had to live in a house with an open abusive relationship going on in front of them (where they both looked up to both people). Fourth of all, Miles found Quint dead on the steps and Miss Jessel then killed herself. Fifth of all, Miles gets sent away to school and Flora is pretty much alone in the house with only the servants until Miss Giddens gets there. And if she wasn't messed up before she arrived...
  • Genre Savvy: Miss Giddens, though it is suggested she is merely making the story up on her own.
  • Ghostly Goals: Miss Giddens believes that the two ghosts are trying to possess the children so they can continue their relationship.
  • Harmful to Minors: Miss Jessel and Quint—on multiple levels.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Mrs Grose and Miles do make a big fuss of how pretty Miss Giddens is, though in Miles's case he's probably trying to be flattering to distract her.
  • I See Dead People: Present but it's never stated whether Miss Giddens is seeing ghosts or just imagining. Flora and Miles possibly too.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Miss Giddens's hair is down for the part of the film where Miles plants a big kiss on her.
  • Light Is Not Good: Flora and Miles appear to be two of the most angelic children around, Flora emphasizing this by wearing white all the time. Whether or not they are being possessed they are extremely manipulative and seem to enjoy terrorising Miss Giddens.
  • Mad Love: Miss Jessel for Quint.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The governess is unnamed in the book but called Miss Giddens in this. Miss Jessel is also given "Mary" as a first name.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: It's revealed that the music box Flora has was given to her by Miss Jessel, making it a Tragic Keepsake. She plays it and hums the tune at night.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Miss Giddens is convinced that getting the children to admit the ghosts are there will get rid of them.
  • Parental Abandonment: The children are orphans and their uncle refuses to be saddled with them.
  • Please Wake Up: Miles did this on discovering the dead Quint.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Both of the children flash these at points.
  • Sanity Slippage: The film leaves it open as to whether this is what's happening to Miss Giddens. Flora suffers this after the governess tries to get her to confront Miss Jessel's ghost.
  • Scenery Porn: Several long and lovely shots of the English countryside, as well as the grounds and gardens of the house itself. Miss Giddens loves it so much she gets out of the carriage at the gates and walks the rest of the way to the house.
  • Ship Tease: Some rather odd subtext going on between Miles and Miss Giddens. He asks her to kiss him goodnight and then gives her a rather passionate kiss on the lips. She also kisses him on the lips after he dies.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The Uncle, played by Michael Redgrave. He appears for 5 minutes max but is continually discussed by Miss Giddens and Mrs Grose, reflecting the former's infatuation with him. It doesn't help that Miles is said to greatly resemble his Uncle. Also, the Uncle is largely to blame for what happens at the end, because had Miss Giddens been able to consult him, she might not have taken the drastic steps that lead to Flora's breakdown and Miles' death.
  • Spiders Are Scary: One of the earliest signs that Flora is a Creepy Child is when Miss Giddens finds her excitedly watching a spider eat a butterfly.
  • Stepford Smiler: Miles is a bit of a type C.
  • Title Drop: Miss Giddens refers to the children as "the innocents".
  • Troubled, but Cute: Miles is a very young example. He's The Charmer who can flatter any woman. But he was expelled from school for bullying other children, and has a very twisted sense of humour.
  • Woman in White: Flora. She's the only character who wears all white.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Mrs Grose says she saw Quint strike Miss Jessel and knock her to the floor several times.