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The most daring thing about this adaptation of Henry James' classic
tale is the way that stunning newcomer Jodhi May plays the ghost
haunted governess as a living, breathing girl with flaws rather than a
lifeless model of prim perfection. Deborah Kerr's interpretation in the
earlier film version (titled THE INNOCENTS) was so cool and crisp that
there was never any doubt that the governess would overcome the evil
ghosts (and save the rotten children who serve them)through sheer icy
self-control, pure virginity and stubborn virtue.
Jodhi May's performance shows more psychological depth, depicting a
governess who is menaced not only by the ghosts themselves but by her
own voluptuous desires. Temptation surrounds the governess in this
version, not only in the attentions of her devastatingly handsome
employer (a stunning and very youthful Colin Firth) but also in the
very comforts and luxuries of her position on the secluded estate.
Watch the way she succumbs to the charms of Miles' piano playing in the
film's climactic scene, not only losing track of the time but falling
little by little into a deep, drugged sleep. The two children are both
shown as being more alert, more aware, than the lovely governess, whose
nights have been quite sleepless owing to both ghostly terrors and
erotic dreams of her employer. During the piano scene, Jodhi May's
shifting expression is worth watching closely, as her bewitching gray
eyes sink from stern watchfulness to drooping weariness, an unwilling
surrender every bit as haunted and erotic as her dreams. Note how the
camera very knowingly cuts back and forth from the heavy eyes of the
governess to the light fingers of Miles at the piano, his skill meant
to suggest the feather-soft touch of a lover. There can be little doubt
that this image suggests a woman who bears her crystal pure virginity
not as a shining shield but as an exhausting burden. She wants to have
her employer's hands touching her lightly and knowingly, drawing forth
her full desires the way Miles draws exquisite melody from the piano.
Her deep sleep leaves her at the mercy of the children, but it results
from the adult strain of holding her own sensual desires at bay. What a
rich, haunting story, and what an authentic, womanly performance from
the beautiful Jodhi May!
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