|The Times (12/27/99) by
At two hours, The Turn of the
Screw had the opposite problem. Henry James's story relies on generating
a supernatural frisson, and the two children, Miles and Flora, had a perfect
blend of innocence and sinister precocity. Perhaps it was because the evil,
malevolent ghost of Peter Quint reminded me of Wurzel Gummidge. Perhaps
it was because Jodhi May as the Governess went through the film with her
mouth ajar and was clearly bonkers, but the hairs on the back of my neck
refused to stand up. Her anguish was plain.
Was she really seeing ghosts?
Were the children possessed? "For heaven's sake, woman," I shouted at her,
"phone a friend!"
The Birmingham Post (12/23/99)
by Graham Keal
Jodhi May isn't the first and
won't be the last young woman to look longingly at Colin 'Mr Darcy' Firth
with barely recognised stirrings of suppressed sexual desire. Mind
you, in her role as the Governess in ITV's classy, scalp-tingling new Boxing
Day version of the great Henry James ghost story, The Turn of the Screw,
she's the only one who gets the chance. He appears in just one scene, alone
with her. [...]
Firth's single scene casts him
as the Master, the rich, unmarried young(ish) man left with sole responsibility
for his orphaned nephew and niece, Miles and Sarah, a responsibility he
wants to be rid of.
But as the Governess—referred
to only as Miss throughout—she is all of a flutter with her new employer's
flattering, manipulative attentions: 'Miss is at an age where she is coming
more sexually aware, and she has an infatuation with the Master.
But it exists purely in the realms of fantasy. She is not in a social position
where a relationship between them could become a reality. When she meets
him it is the first time she has been outside the family home and sat alone
with a man, without a chaperone.'
It is a fantasy that you will
not find fleshed out in the original story, where Miss's infatuation with
the Master is only hinted at.
The opening scene between them
is a clever device by Nick Dear, who wrote the screenplay, to make plain
what is no more than a subtle backdrop to the book. The Master's desire
is to recruit a governess who agrees to the stipulation that she will take
full responsibility for the children's upbringing at his distant country
seat and never, on any account, trouble him with their news.
Miss arrives at the house to
a rousing welcome from kindly, maternal housekeeper Mrs Grose (a perfect
role for Pam Ferris) and finds she has pride of place in a superb mansion,
with two delightful children as her companions and pupils.
But the previous governess,
Miss Jessel, committed suicide, and the Master's former valet, Peter Quint,
has left a malign influence in the house since his own death.
When Miss starts seeing a mysterious
man and woman whom she later learns to be the ghosts of Jessel and Quint,
she is soon convinced that the children see the ghosts too and are in some
kind of evil, secret pact with them. She believes only she can save
their souls. Jodhi's wide-eyed looks prove very suitable for the goggling
horror with which she greets these apparitions.
The question for viewers is,
are her visions real and is she right about the children, or is she a hysterical
woman on the verge of insanity?
'I saw her character as somebody
who had to believe she was not wrong, irrational or mad about what she
could see, but that she was actually an incredibly rational and judicious
person,' says Jodhi. [...]
The Turn of the Screw... is
a beautifully restrained exercise in suspense. If you want to see something
this Christmas to make the hairs on your neck bristle, this one's for you.
TimeOut by Tom Howard
...Henry James' 1898 ghost
story 'The Turn Of The Screw', adapted by Nick Dear. Unfortunately, as
is often the case with period dramas and is certainly the case with this
one, a classic novel does not necessarily result in a classic piece of
Jodhi May plays the Governess,
sent to a country house to look after the niece and nephew of a London
gent she refers to as the Master (Colin Firth) during the summer. While
going about her duties the nameless Governess is spooked by ghostly apparitions
and the strange behaviour of the seemingly innocent children, Miles and
It's a bizarre tale that is
not particularly easy to get a handle on even in the book, so it will be
confusing to the average viewer who tunes in without being familiar with
Henry James’ work. Sexual tension between the Governess and the Master
is hinted at in the opening scene, yet this is then virtually ignored.
Her increasingly unhinged behaviour seems absurdly melodramatic. The background
to her character and the motivations for her behaviour are thin on the
ground, and Jodhi May is not a good enough actress to suggest any. Ultimately,
her blank bewilderment becomes increasingly irritating.
Oh, and Darcy fans: if ITV’s
marketing has prompted you to tune in in anticipation of a hefty dose of
Colin Firth, you will be disappointed. He’s on screen for a grand total
of five minutes. Better to wait for the movie version, 'The Innocents',
at 1.35am on C4.
The Birmingham Post (12/27/99)
by Mike Davies
A sparse, stripped back The
Turn Of The Screw (Carlton) provided the annual ghost tale. The decision
to make manifest the evil spirits, to ignore the governess's sexual repression
and the possibility of the children's mental unbalance would have upset
fans of the novel's psychological textures, but with an excellent turn
from Jodhi May (though a five-minute cameo hardly warranted Colin Firth's
star billing) it still delivered chilling suspense.
Scotland on Sunday (1/2/00)
[I]t was the unexpected Boxing
Day treat, The Turn of the Screw (ITV), a mesmerising two-hour adaptation
of Henry James' ghost story, which matched opulence and clarity to generate
a genuine frisson of terror without resorting to the usual Hollywood-style
bucketloads of SFX.
...The Turn of the Screw proved
similarly adroit at sucking the viewer into its grip. Adapted by Nick Dear
and directed by Ben Bolt, this story of the artless young governess (Jodhi
May) being employed by a gentleman (Colin Firth) to look after his two
children, Miles and Flora, reeked with unspoken terror and brooding menace
from the outset and built up towards a climax which was shatteringly portrayed.
Until now, previous variants
on this creepy Jamesian tale—as in The Innocents, which Channel 4 screened,
presumably by chance, only a few hours later—have revolved around one central
question: is the governess mad or deranged? But here, the impressive May,
hiking up the paranoia and apprehension without resorting to hammy over-indulgence,
left us in absolutely no doubt about her fears for her charges as spectral
presences loomed ever nastier in the woodshed.
The Observer (1/2/00)
For Pride and Prejudice fans
who didn't know the story, I suspect that seeing Colin Firth smouldering
Firthishly at the beginning of Boxing Day's The Turn of the Screw constituted
an almighty tease because, of course, he was never seen again. Fortunately,
this was a very superior, spooky adaptation of the Henry James chiller
with Jodhi May, as the governess, admirably handling her character's leisurely,
sun-dappled spiral into haunted paranoia without ever resorting to melodrama,
so we didn't miss Firth too much.
Nick Dear's screenplay hinted,
modishly, at some messily repressed and righteously God-fearing Victorian
sexuality, while the children playing the governess's two charges, Miles
and Flora, were not half as revolting as they might have been, given that
they were in almost every scene and may (or may not) have been demonically
inclined. The least enviable part, however, went to Pam Ferris as the housekeeper,
Miss Grose primarily a reactive, unflashy role, forced to feed off lines
delivered by May and the children.
Watching The Turn of the Screw
made me realise how refreshing it is to go cold turkey with old-fashioned
spine-tingling terror on Boxing Day. Not only aren't there enough 'Oooh!
Beeee-hind You! Aaargh, No, Don't You Go Down That Corridor in The Dark!'
ghost stories on TV any more, but there can never be enough antidotes to
the kind of smug Yuletide cosiness which involves Charlotte Church telling
viewers, with all the irony that only a 13-year-old is incapable of mustering,
to go and buy her CD before singing 'Let your dreams be wings and fly as
far as a star' on Des O'Connor (oh, I will, Charlotte I will).
Interesting, though, that the
commercials punctuating The Turn of the Screw were so feminine (Fiat Punto,
shampoo, lime leather horrorshow sofas from DFS ). Are ghost stories and
Dickensian adaptations (and, come to that, Colin Firth) really only aimed
Variety (2/24/00) by Sherri
Filmed countless times for
both the bigscreen and the tube, Henry James' timeless ghost story still
carries a provocative charge. This straightforward, solid adaptation
for Masterpiece Theatre brings nothing especially new to the rich material,
but fine performances and a seamless production deliver the requisite chills.
There may be no burning reason for yet another screen version of the masterful
short novel, other than the profound pull of the story, but perhaps
that’s reason enough.
Russell Baker’s introductory
comments shed some light on the author’s state of mind when he penned “The
Turn of the Screw,” but a century later, its central questions remain wide
open to interpretation: Are the events unfolding at country house, Bly,
visitations from the other side, the expression of a repressed young
woman’s hysteria, the effects of child abuse or the machinations of a murderously
Script by Nick Dear places slight
emphasis on the central character’s unexpressed sexuality with more-than-glancing
suggestions of her complicity in the dark doings; telepic makes quite clear
the young governess’ (Jodhi May) attraction to the bachelor (Colin Firth)
who hires her to take care of his orphaned nephew and niece.
Thesps fully exploit the brief
scene of flirtation and foreboding, the only one in which the two characters
meet. Firth is convincing as the absentee uncle who has “not a penny worth
of paternal understanding” and who insists on not being troubled once the
new governess assumes her post.
May’s blushing young parson’s
daughter thrills at his physical closeness, even as she wonders about
the enormity of the responsibility, her first job and the circumstances
of her predecessor’s death.
No sooner is she installed as
head of the estate than 10-year-old Miles (Joe Sowerbutts) is expelled
from school for unstated reasons, and specters of the former governess
and another dead servant start making appearances.
The (unnamed) new governess
is certain that Miles and his younger sister (Grace Robinson),
disturbingly well behaved and
as picture-perfect as two kids can be, are also aware of the presence of
Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, and are under their corrupting spell.
As she pieces together her conspiracy
theory, housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Pam Ferris) serves as the young woman’s
sounding board, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes doubting.
In its final stages, this is
a two-hander, the story reaching its ultimate crisis in the faceoff between
the governess and her increasingly
defiant charge Miles.
The actors play up the confrontation,
and the relationship as a whole, for every ominous ambiguity they’re worth.
May is a compelling presence as the devout young woman who, convinced
she’s come face to face with evil, is determined to save her “innocent
babies” from the ill intentions of the dead lovers.
And as the ultra-polite, “Hamlet”-quoting
sprig who addresses his governess as “my dear,” Sowerbutts conveys just
the right mix of boyish charm and unnerving knowingness.
Ferris, Firth and Robinson provide
Under Ben Bolt’s steady direction,
this telling of the mystery may lack the stylish, atmospheric horror of
the 1961 Deborah Kerr starrer “The Innocents,” perhaps the finest film
version of the
story, but it is nonetheless
a polished rendition of the haunting, enigmatic tale.
Pat Campbell’s production design,
David Odd’s cinematography and Sheena Napier’s costumes evoke the idyllic
period setting, often in sunny contrast to the story’s psychological shadow
realm. The music soundtrack by Adrian Johnston is effective and unobtrusive;
like everything else in this production, it refuses to go for the obvious.