And You Call Yourself a Scientist!
THE TURN OF THE SCREW (1992)
"I believe that - something unnatural happened here. I am just not sure what...."
Director: Rusty Lemorande
Synopsis: A woman in a therapy group (Marianne Faithfull) tells the story of Jennifer Gooding (Patsy Kensit), a young woman appointed governess to two young children by their uncle (Julian Sands). Under strict instructions to cope with whatever arises without bothering her employer, Miss Gooding travels to Bly House, where she meets Madame Gross (Stephane Audran), the house-keeper, and six-year-old Flora (Claire Szekeres), one of her charges. A letter arrives from the school of Miles (Joseph England), Floras brother, announcing that Miles has been sent away for being a corrupting influence on the other children. Miss Gooding is dumbfounded, and cannot decide what to do. When Miles arrives at the house, Miss Gooding is charmed by him, and decides that there must have been a mistake made. She tries to teach the children herself, but finds them difficult to control. At night, Miss Gooding begins to suffer strange dreams. Then one day, while walking in the grounds, she sees a man watching her from a tower. She climbs to the top but there is no-one there. Later, she sees the same man outside the house. When she describes him, Madame Gross remarks that it sounds like Quint (Oliver Debray), who also worked at Bly, but that Quint is dead. Miss Goodings dreams increase, and she sees Quint again and again. She also sees a second figure, a woman, whom she believes to be Miss Jessel (Bryony Brind), the childrens former governess who also died. From Madame Gross she learns that Quint and Jessel had a strange sexual relationship, and were an unhealthy influence on the children. Miss Gooding decides that the two have returned from the grave to possess the children, and that she must fight for their souls.
Henry James story "The Turn Of The Screw" is one of the most subtle horror stories ever written. The initial filming of the tale, Jack Claytons superb The Innocents (1961), managed the near impossible task of transferring its eerie atmosphere to the screen, even though some of the ambiguities of the written word were necessarily lost in the process of visualisation. The level of subtlety and ambiguity operating in Rusty Lemorandes 1992 version of the story is best summed up in the scene where Miss Gooding sees the ghost of Quint lying naked in her bed. Watching a sledge hammer being taken to this most delicate of stories - which has been updated to the 1960s for no readily apparent reason - is a distressing experience. Its missteps are almost without number. We are shown the "spirits" over and over again, in glaring close-up, and what is worse, the film makes it all but certain that the children see them too. Patsy Kensit is neither old enough nor a good enough actress to convey the complexities which should be in the governesss character, and she is so obviously neurotic right from the outset that there is really nowhere for her to go but into outright insanity. The films lack of depth is underlined in its presentation of Miss Gooding as a very ostentatious Catholic, which here is shorthand for someone suffering both religious and sexual repression, and a weird sort of Electra complex as well (shes Catholic, but - ahem - her father was a "minister"). Her vision of herself as a religious martyr - she cuts off her hair before going in for the final showdown - makes it difficult to sympathise with her. Audience sympathy is much more likely to extend to Madame Gross, who has to put up with her. The house-keepers role is sadly underwritten, and the usually excellent Stephane Audran can do little with it, but there is one nice moment when, armed with a book and a glass of wine, she treats the governess to a very studied display of indifference. The supporting cast adds little to the proceedings, and the framing device starring Marianne Faithfull as a woman who may be Flora grown up narrating the story as part of her psychiatric therapy is yet another example of the filmmakers lack of understanding of their material. (On this subject, I think having someone tell the whole story, then claim not to remember what happened, is carrying the notion of the "unreliable narrator" a little too far.) The only aspect of the film which deserves praise is that, unlike the other two remakes of this story released in 1974 and 1989, it does not take the easy option of making the children older. The vulnerability of the pair is the underlying premise of the story, and this is lost in the other versions by making them adolescents who look quite capable of taking care of themselves, or even of being active parties in their "possession". Much of the tension of the story lies in the implication that the threat to the children is as much sexual as spiritual, and this at least Rusty Lemorande seems to have realised, although the single most disturbing moment in The Innocents - Miles kissing his governess - is desexualised and thrown away here. Nevertheless, the brightest point in this otherwise dismal offering is the performance of young Joseph England as Miles which, while not challenging Martin Stephens definitive interpretation, has a complexity that implies that the boy had a better idea of what the film was actually about than the people who produced it.