Since I read this article announcing a new adaptation of Henry James’ s THE TURN OF THE SCREW (I  read some years ago) I started wishing to see it and waiting for its airing by BBC. It was broadcast at the end of December and, eventually, I watched it yesterday.  OFFICIAL PAGE AT BBC .

(Dan Stevens as Dr Fisher)
Young Ann is closed in a mental asylum and rejects any help, refusing to speak with anybody. Dr Fisher wants to convince her to talk to him and little by little he succeeds . She starts telling him about the disquieting things she heard, saw and lived at Blys.

(Sue Johnston as Mrs Grose and Michelle Dockery as Ann)
The young governess had been hired by a fascintaing bachelor who  found himself responsible for his niece and nephew after the death of their parents. He lived in London and had no interest in raising the children. The boy, Miles, was attending a boarding school while his sister, Flora (Eva Sayer), was living at the country home in Essex. She was currently being cared for by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. The governess's new employer gave her full charge of the children and explicitly states that she was not to bother him with communications of any sort. The governess travelled to her new employer's country house and began her duties.

Miles (Josef Lindsey on the left) suddenly returned from school for the summer just after a letter from the headmaster stating that he had been expelled. Miles never wanted to speak  of the matter, and the governess was hesitant to raise the issue. She feared that there was some horrid secret behind the expulsion, but was too charmed by the adorable young boy to want to press the issue. Shortly thereafter, the governess began to see around the grounds of the estate the figures of a man and  a woman whom she did not recognize. These figures came and went at will without ever being seen or challenged by other members of the household, and they seemed to the governess to be supernatural.Thanks to the help of Carla, one of the house maids, she learnt from that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, and Miss Jessel's illicit lover, Peter Quint, both died under curious circumstances, that he was terribly evil, and that the two were lovers.  Prior to their death, they spent most of their time with Flora and Miles, and this fact took on grim significance for the governess when she became convinced that the two children were secretly aware of the presence of the ghosts...

(Nicola Walker as Carla)

From the Book to the movie - Gothic ghost story or phsychological thriller?
Throughout his career James was attracted to the ghost story genre. However, he was not fond of literature's stereotypical ghosts. Rather, he preferred to create ghosts that were eerie extensions of everyday reality—"the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy," as he put it in the New York Edition preface to his final ghost story, The Jolly Corner.

The Turn of the Screw is no exception to this formula. In fact, some critics have wondered if he didn't intend the "strange and sinister" to be embroidered only on the governess's mind and not on objective reality. The result has been a long-standing critical dispute over the reality of the ghosts and the sanity of the governess.- The dispute over the reality of the ghosts has had a real effect on some critics, most notably Edmund Wilson, who was one of the first proponents of the insane governess theory. Probably Sandy Welch was inspired by this trend of criticism in her writing the script for this latest Tv adaptation of Henry James’s short novel . In fact, her script  opens with a frame set in an asylum where the governess is kept and taken care of.  It is set in post-war London,  in 1921. ( the book was published in 1898)

Also Henry James’s story  had a frame but not set in an asylum:  in the book  an anonymous narrator recalls a Christmas Eve gathering at an old house, where guests listen to one another’s ghost stories. A guest named Douglas introduces a story that involves two children—Flora and Miles—and his sister’s governess, with whom he was in love. After procuring the governess’s written record of events from his home, he provides a few introductory details. This is the first difference between the movie and the novella. Then there are several others. For instance, in the book no one believes in what Ann says she sees or sees what she sees. This is an excellent device through which James increases our sense of uneasiness and the helplessness and anxiety of the protagonist. His ability lays in not revealing or explaining too much: ambiguity and mystery are the main ingredients in his thrilling mystery stories. Everything is, instead, rather explicitly explained and shown in the TV movie which, though it remains quite disquieting, loses the deep sense of mystery the book has.
I didn't mind this TV movie , I can't honestly say I loved it. I haven't seen any other adaptation of this novella  and I can't compare. Furthermore I think it is not easy when it comes to the representation of the supernatural. Images are for themselves unveiling, while the written word can create incredible spells without revealing too much. I admire Sandy Welch for her courage at interpreting classics and not simply re-tell them. She has been often criticized for her attempts, though her Emma, Jane Eyre, North and South or Our Mutual Friend have been acclaimed by so many period drama lovers. This The Turn of the Screw is her most recent work. Not a bad one in my opinion.


JaneGS said...

I was hoping that you would say that this is the ONE best adaptation of Turn of the Screw. I still haven't watched any, but am gearing up to. In a way, I would prefer that the adaptation stay true to James' ambivalence about ghost/insane rather than slanting the interpretation toward the insane theory.

As you said so well..."His ability lays in not revealing or explaining too much: ambiguity and mystery are the main ingredients in his thrilling mystery stories. Everything is, instead, rather explicitly explained and shown in the TV movie which, though it remains quite disquieting, loses the deep sense of mystery the book has."

The book was very disquieting...I read it last fall and am still obsessing over it.

Great review!

The Editrix said...

I didn't know there was a new version of The Turn of the Screw! Screenplay written by Sandy Welch. . . mmm. . . might have to check this out!

I saw the late nineties (1999?) version with Jodhi May and Colin Firth (Colin only appears onscreen for about 3 minutes). I'll admit, it creeped me out. . . I don't like ghost stories! :P

Unknown said...

Hmmm...sounds intriguing! Perhaps this film will make it to the US for the 2011 Masterpiece Classic season. Thanks for the review!

Avalon said...

I have seen the one with Colin Firth and Jodi May.

lunarossa said...

I also watched the adaptation with Colin Firth (so sorry he was only briefly in it!!!) and I found it rather disturbing, but not as much as when reading the book. As you and Jane well wrote, the book can conceal and hide better and creates a more sinister atmosphere that the screen cannot. Ciao. A.

Avalon said...

Yes, the one with Jodi May is not the best movie

Luciana said...

I'm very fond of Henry James, but haven't read this yet. The children look quite creepy to me. I hope I'll like the adaptation...

Anonymous said...

Not as good as Jack Clayton's The Innocents (but then that is a classic), but not at all bad.
I thought the slight up-dating to post WW1 worked quite well. The performances were uniformly good (though the two kids were a little inconsistent), but I felt the screenplay lacked subtlety and was at times too heavy-handed. Much of this was in the governess's voice-over (particularly relating to her infatuation with the uncle) so perhaps it was added later in a misguided effort to make explicit what would better have been left implied.