- Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens
- Martin Stephens as Miles
- Pamela Franklin as Flora
- Megs Jenkins as Mrs. Grose
- Peter Wyngarde as Quint
- Michael Redgrave as The Uncle
Filled with an exceptionally eerie atmosphere, The Innocents is one of the finest psychological horror movies I’ve seen due to its power of suggestion instead of cheap shocks.
In Victorian times, the somewhat sheltered Miss Giddens applies for a job as a governess. She meets a wealthy man who is the uncle to two young children who were orphaned years ago. The uncle has no real desire to look after the children because of his business so despite the inexperience of Miss Giddens, he hires her immediately. Miss Giddens travels to the large mansion he owns to look after the two young children, a boy named Miles and a girl named Flora. Introduced through kindly housekeeper Mrs. Grose first to the seemingly angelic Flora, Miss Giddens takes a liking to her and sees no trouble on the horizon. Yet all of this will soon change when Miles is expelled from school and returns to the old mansion. Although both of the children appear nice enough, there is something very peculiar about them, particularly Miles who is alarmingly mature for his age. Miss Giddens begins to feel a strange sense of dread build around them and this soon leads to unusual events. The young governess swears she sees a man up on one of the turrets, but when she looks there is no one. She also sees a woman in black near the lily pond who swiftly vanishes. The behaviour of Miles and Flora becomes unnerving as they seem too knowing and keep secrets with one another. Confiding in Mrs. Grose about her sighting of the unidentified man, she learns that he resembles the master’s former valet Peter Quint, who died on the steps of the house. A wicked and perverse man, he entered into a relationship with the children’s former governess Miss Jessel and they regularly influenced Miles and Flora in disturbing ways. Miss Jessel also died around a year ago by taking her own life after losing her abusive lover. Terrified of the thought that the children she is caring for are possessed by the malevolent spirits of Quint and Jessel, Miss Giddens tries to get to the bottom of the creepy events around her. But are these things just figments of her guarded and repressed imagination? Or a result of a nervous breakdown? Or is the house and the children genuinely haunted by ghosts?
Jack Clayton masterfully keeps a sense of atmosphere throughout The Innocents, slowly unfolding the chilling tale with moments of creeping intensity every so often without being clichéd or overt. He marvellously creates ambiguity to the events witnessed, as an audience we must question the validity of Miss Giddens and whether or not she is actually seeing ghosts. Even up until the shocking end, we are never certain whether the occurrences are in fact real or imaginary. We are truly left to decide for ourselves and that makes The Innocents a frightening film as it taps into something very psychological. Visually, The Innocents is outstanding in the way it captures the Gothic nature of the house and the dark shadows from its past that could be rising again through striking cinematography. Countless scenes of creepiness and ambience abound here, from the sightings of Miss Giddens, her hearing disconnected, surrounding voices through one of the corridors or most unusually, young Miles kissing her with an adult intensity that clearly alarms her. The score for The Innocents is minimal, but is all the more effective for it as it rises during many of the eerie moments that populate the film and give it a ghostly impact and letting the silence take a lot of the suspense. And one can’t forget the bone-chilling and ghoulish lullaby that features throughout the film and creates a menacing impact whenever it appears.
Deborah Kerr turns in a wonderful performance as the increasingly highly strung Miss Giddens. She displays the fear of darkness lurking about and the terrified nature brought on by a naive way of thinking. With the wrong actress the role of Miss Giddens could have been overly dramatic and histrionic, but the exceptional Deborah Kerr keeps things a bit more subdued in the beginning, making her descent into terror and hysteria very well-executed. Kerr’s great delivery further gives The Innocents a sense of ambiguity because at times her actions seem valid and acceptable and in others bordering on hysteria and sheltered fright. Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin are perfect as the unusual children Miles and Flora, that have something that unnerves after initially seeming angelic and sweet. These two rank highly on my list of creepy movie kids. Megs Jenkins is good as the kindly housekeeper who tries to explain away events as imaginary but becomes clearly frightened by the ideas of Miss Giddens. He doesn’t speak a word but whenever Peter Wyngarde is on screen as the villainous apparition of the vile Quint, the intensity of his eyes is terrifying to behold. Michael Redgrave makes the most of his brief role as the disinterested uncle to Miles and Flora.
Hugely chilling and skillfully ambiguous, The Innocents is a haunting film that will keep the hairs on the back of your neck on end for hours after watching.