The Innocents (12A) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Tremulous, insinuating, deeply ambiguous, Jack Clayton's 1961 film is to my mind far better than its source, Henry James's ghost-story novella The Turn of The Screw. Deborah Kerr is magnificent as the prim governess Miss Giddens, arriving at a lonely country estate to take charge of an orphaned brother and sister, only to find the place haunted by the shades of the previous governess, Miss Jessel, and the malignant valet, Peter Quint.

The tension is partly derived from the atmosphere of the house, its shadowy corridors and dark windows lent an ominous thrill by Freddie Francis's black-and-white photography. But partly it's the way Clayton controls the vague, half-seen figures at the edge of the screen: the first appearance of Quint (in long shot) is unsettling, but his second, leering through a glass darkly, is absolutely terrifying. The sense of dread is also embodied in the alarmingly precocious, supposedly possessed children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), whose seeming innocence carries an obscure kind of threat. This is a bona fide classic.