With its superlative script (largely by Truman Capote) and arguably the finest performance of Deborah Kerr’s career, Jack Clayton’s film of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is one of cinema’s greatest ghost stories.
From the very opening – the sounds of first a small girl and then a nightingale in song, followed by a shot of hands in tremulous prayer – an unholy alliance is vividly evoked, of childhood play, nocturnal longing and fearful superstition. Hired with little ado by their uncaring, absent uncle, Miss Giddens (Kerr) arrives at Bly House to oversee the education and welfare of orphans Miles and Flora; after the housekeeper mentions her predecessor’s shocking fate, the governess, well-meaning but hardly well-versed in the ways of the world, becomes convinced her charges may have been corrupted, even possessed…
Much has been made of Freddie Francis’s lambent black and white ‘Scope images, darkly suggestive of sinister visitations and immanent horror – ‘O Rose, thou art sick’ – while Wilfrid Shingleton’s expert production design and Georges Auric’s music add to the febrile atmosphere. But it’s the rich ambiguity, embodied in the cadences of the dialogue and acting and enhanced by the use of natural sound and reflections, that makes the film as psychologically astute as it is genuinely, deliciously disturbing.
Released as part of the BFI’s Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film season.
Ludlow Assembly Rooms
Whitgift Film Theatre
Clwyd Theatre Cymru