Monday, 5 December 2011

The Innocents (1961)

Fig. 1
Jack Clayton's The Innocents is an eerie British black and white horror, which has become known as a classic. With its creepy and atmospheric scenes and mise-en-scene the audience becomes engulfed within the elegant and somewhat beautifully familiar cinematography. The story centres around Deborah Kerr's character, Miss Giddens, a governess who has been put in charge of two children, Miles and Flora. At first the two children act as if butter wouldn't melt, but later it becomes apparent that these 'little darlings' aren't as endearing as they first seemed. Expressing a maturity beyond their years, the children's strange and secretive behaviour raises suspicion with Miss Giddens, who then with background knowledge from the housekeeper comes to the conclusion that the children have become possessed by the previous deceased governess and grounds keeper. The film ends with the death of Miles and an awkward 'Freudian' kiss.   

 The rooms of the grand mansion within the film gave an eerie atmosphere, the large open, dark spaces gave the illusion that the character wasn't alone. The melodic music played throughout, related to the music box and Flora humming the tune, makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The music drives the narrative and builds the tension to a dramatic climax of the uncanny. Bosley Crowther suggests, "Folks who have never seen a movie set in a scary old house, where the doors creak, the wind howls around corners, ghosts pace the long, dark halls and hideous, spectral faces appear in the windows at night, should find themselves beautifully frightened and even intellectually aroused by Jack Clayton's new picture . . ." (Crowther 1961) Crowther states The Innocents has all the classic elements a horror should and enlightens its audience with its visual and acoustic effects.

Fig. 2
During the film suggested prominent themes come from Kerr's Miss Giddens, the idea of suppressed sexuality coming out in the form of awkward and uncomfortable kisses with Miles. There's something so innocent, yet disturbing about the exchanges the two share. Miles constant flattery can be misconstrued as flirting - acting beyond his years. Freudian's subtext assists in building the 'uncanny' atmosphere and gives an unexpected twist to the plot. Andrew Pulver observes, "With legendary cameraman Freddie Francis on board, supplying arguably his most spectacular visual accompaniment to the action, this is a film in which setting and atmosphere play a significant role in beefing up the Freudian subtexts. The final scene earned the film an X-certificate on its initial release, and an enduring reputation as a properly disturbing depiction of repressed sexuality." (Pulver 2010) Pulver commends Francis's filming and argues that it is the element that makes the film the classic and success it is. He also then goes on to discuss Freud's theory within The Innocents and suggests this is the subtext that is the most 'unhomely' and taboo of all.

Fig. 3
Kerr's performance is everything it should, poised elegance at the start to erratic and psychotic at the end. The audience is left on a cliff hanger, is Miss Giddens mad or have the children been possessed by the ghosts from the past. The interaction between the children builds an intriguing suspense as the audience is left in confusion. Variety states, "Clayton's small but expert cast do full justice to their tasks, Kerr runs a wide gamut of emotions in a difficult role in which she has to start with an uncomplicated portrayal and gradually find herself involved in strange, unnatural goings-on, during which she sometimes doubts her own sanity. Clayton has also coaxed a couple of remarkable pieces of playing from the two youngsters, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin, extraordinary blends of innocence and sophistry." (Variety 1961) Variety praises the cast on their portrayals of the characters. This is what makes the piece so believable and gives a feel of the an eerie underlying narrative of the uncanny.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Clayton, Jack (1961) The Innocents Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:3/12/11)

Figure 2. Clayton, Jack (1961) Deborah Kerr. At: (Accessed on:3/12/11)

Figure 3. Clayton, Jack (1961) Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens), Martin Stephens (Miles) and Palema Franklin (Flora). At: (Accessed on:3/12/11)


The New York Times Review Bosley Crowther (1961) The Innocents (1961). At: Tomatoes (Accessed on:3/12/11)

The Guardian Andrew Pulver (2010) The Innocents: No 11 best horror film of all time. At: (Accessed on:3/12/11)

Variety (1961) The Innocents. At: (Accessed on:3/12/11)

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