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The Innocents

Based on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, THE INNOCENTS is a fine chiller that builds suspense slowly, subtly, and inexorably. Kerr is on top form here, enacting a role that takes perfect advantage of her respectable facade wrestling with unspeakable turbulence beneath the surface. In Victorian England, Kerr arrives at the country estate of Redgrave, who has hired her to serve as the governess of his young niece and nephew, Franklin and Stephens. The housekeeper, Jenkins, introduces her to Franklin, an angelic little child with a beguiling smile who appears to have a mysterious foreknowledge of her brother's imminent arrival, though he is not expected. Soon a letter arrives from Stephens' school, informing the household that the boy has been expelled because he is a corrupting influence on his schoolmates. However, when Stephens arrives, he proves to be every bit as innocent and entrancing as his sister, and Kerr decides that the school officials must have been mistaken. Though the estate is a beautiful refuge, there is also an air of eeriness about the place. Kerr thinks she sees a man atop the house, is temporarily blinded by the sun, and then discovers Stephens feeding pigeons where she thought the man was. Feeling that her eyes must have played tricks on her, she calms down; later, however, she sees the specter of a woman at a window, and then sees the man again, getting a glimpse of his twisted face. When she describes these apparitions to Jenkins, she is told that the descriptions match those of the estate's late manager and his dead lover, the woman who preceded Kerr as governess. Kerr learns further that the deceased lovers had a sadomasochistic relationship, and that they had a considerable influence on the children. Are the children possessed by evil, earthbound spirits or is Kerr going mad? Filmed at Sheffield Park in Sussex, this literate and elegant gothic horror, co-scripted by Truman Capote and John Mortimer, is fairly faithful to the James original. THE INNOCENTS manipulates the viewer's imagination as few films can, with Kerr and Redgrave doing a masterful job of creating a sense of repressed hysteria.