I had seen Jack Clayton's The Innocents when I was a kid and honestly I didn't understand it. It was creepy but boring! I felt the same way about The Haunting, which I also saw for the first time when I was too young to understand it. Revisiting these films as an adult has been quite a revelation. At 10 I couldn't understand the concept of psychological horror. I wanted my ghost stories like Poltergeist- Indian Burial Grounds and people being sucked into TVs. Now I realize that films like The Innocents, The Haunting, and even The Others can be even more horrifying. Strange sounds, bumps in the night, a shadowy figure glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. These are the things that make you question your sanity. These three films ask the same question: Are ghosts responsible for all of these things, or are you really going mad? The Innocents never really answers that question. It leaves it up to you to decide.
Based on "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, The Innocents tells the story of a rather naive and sheltered Governess (Deborah Kerr) who accepts a position from a wealthy Businessman to watch over his two charges, Miles and Flora. The Businessman, the children's Uncle, wants nothing to do with them, and he gives the Governess, named Miss Giddens, complete control over the whole household. She cares for them on a sprawling Gothic estate in the English Countryside, with only a few other servants to keep her company. When young Miles is expelled from his boarding school, Miss Giddens is worried, but so charmed by him she lets the matter go. Thing are wonderful for a while until she learns about the previous Governess and her lover, the Businessman's Valet. Both died under mysterious circumstances. The children were very close to the doomed pair, and Miss Giddens begins to suspect that they may be possessed by the lover's spirits.
Miss Giddens begins to see the spirits of the lovers, although no one else can. The children start to act strange. Flora stares into space, humming a mysterious tune, and Miles, creepy Miles, acts way too grown up for his age. Convinced that there is evil afoot, Miss Giddens desperately tries to "free" the children.
What is amazing about this beautiful film (Freddie Francis was the cinematographer) is that it leaves you constantly questioning the heroine. We see what she sees, feel what she feels, but we cannot trust it. Are the children possessed, or just precocious? Is Miss Giddens so caught up in this story of a doomed love affair that she cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality? And finally, is she responsible for the tragic death that comes at the end? No answers are given. While I was researching this film I saw that people have been arguing over the meaning of it for years. Is it really a ghost story or a Freudian psychological terror? I have to go with the later.
Deborah Kerr is sensational in this film, but it is really the performances of the children that are so impressive. Martin Stephens, who plays Miles, was also in Village of the Damned. He retired from acting and is now an architect. Pamela Franklin, who plays Flora, went on to have quite a career in the genre, starring in films such as Satan's School for Girls and a personal favorite, The Legend of Hell House.
The Innocents is a perfect film for a dark and stormy night. See it on a double bill with The Haunting and you won't sleep all night.