Film 10: The Innocents (1961)

Deborah Kerr stars in this chilling drama, regarded as one of the best psychological thrillers ever made.

Long established as one of the greatest of all ghost stories, Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw has been filmed many times, but by universal consent the definitive version is this 1961 film by Jack Clayton.

Throughout the film, Clayton demonstrates an encyclopaedic understanding of the nature of supernaturally-charged fear. The Innocents is too elegant and subtle to be labelled simply a horror film, but too genuinely marrow-chilling to fit any other pigeonhole, with cinematographer Freddie Francis giving a masterclass in the use of black-and-white CinemaScope to convey the full panoply of night-time scares and lurking (his use of candlelight is particularly effective).

But many of the most disturbing visual coups take place in broad daylight – an evil-looking cherub disgorging a fat black beetle, the hazy male figure on the top of the tower, and the black-clad image of the former governess Miss Jessell standing in the reeds by the lake. Despite its origins on the page, The Innocents is one of the most cinematically literate of all British horror films, and still packs a powerful punch five decades on.

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