The Innocents (1961)

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a nineteenth century British governess, is appointed to take care of two children, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens). Upon arriving at the bleak mansion she meets the housekeeper (Megs Jenkins) and also Flora. Miles arrives a few days later from school. The children seem like little angels but, following a series of bizarre events and examples of the children’s wicked impulses, Miss Giddens begins to suspect that all is not what it seems.

This dark and atmospheric tale is a wonderful example of how to create an admirable horror movie that, although has violent undertones, features very little violence when all is said and done. ‘The Innocents’ is certainly a psychological horror movie which leaves in doubt how much of the inexplicable happenings are supernatural, and how much is in the mind of the protagonist, Miss Giddens. Director Jack Clayton uses some astonishing visual trickery and ghostly effects to create and maintain a very unsettling atmosphere, almost from the very beginning. A number of effective ghostly apparitions are displayed on screen during the movie from varying distances which gives ‘The Innocents’ a constant, foreboding atmosphere. The way some scene changes blend with the end of the previous scene are rather disconcerting and almost dream like as there are long lingering images, once again, wholly adding to the effect. Some of the dialogue may seem a little unrealistic, but in general the movie is well scripted and features a few very dramatic scenes thanks to some delightfully written dialogue and strong acting performances. William Archibald and Truman Capote both won awards for their script writing.

The only real fault with ‘The Innocents’ is how fast the film moves along. Miss Giddens seems to realise the truth of what is happening all too quickly. This does not make ‘The Innocents’ less enjoyable, but it would have been nice to have had an extra ten minutes or so explaining the story to us a bit more. ‘The Innocents’ has a sustained tone of dread throughout the movie. It seems that Miss Giddens is unable to move without being confronted by some spectre or seeing some rather peculiar behaviour exhibited from the children. I’d compare the dark atmosphere with that of ‘The Haunting’ (1963), both movies are comparable in the way they are presented and are both aesthetically pleasing. The acting was of a high standard, though one must forgive the two young performers if they occasionally seemed to overact. Martin Stephens was very good as Miles, playing his sinister part with an awful power, even though the character’s superciliousness became somewhat of an annoyance. Megs Jenkins was also delightful as the anxious housekeeper Mrs. Grose. From the moment Mrs. Grose is first introduced the viewer can begin to suspect something. Jenkins came across as a friendly, but scared, woman who is desperate to maintain decorum in the house. A fine performance suited her character marvellously. One must also mention Deborah Kerr’s fine performance as Miss Giddens as she played it with the right balance of inquisitiveness and fear. Deborah’s dramatic performance certainly helped make this movie fantastic and one sympathises with her deeply as the film ends on the sombre and heartbreaking note that it does.

‘The Innocents’ is an elegant and stylish movie that is certainly worth watching. Fans of ‘The Omen’ and ‘Village of the Damned’ should enjoy this as well as any fan of dark, atmospheric horror. A strong screenplay, fine performances and breathtaking visual trickery make this movie a very pleasing addition to the horror genre and I highly recommend it to all. ‘The Innocents’ was able to scoop a BAFTA Award (British Academy of Film and Television Awards) for Best British Film as well as a BAFTA nomination for Jack Clayton which he thoroughly deserved. My rating for ‘The Innocents’ –