BBC Radio 7, 6 September 2009
This version of James' classic was first used in a BBC Home Service 'Monday
Play' in 1966. and revived for this 1997 production, directed by Glyn Dearman.
It began by posing some interesting questions - although the uncle (Michael Tudor
Barnes) seemed outwardly cheerful, who obviously enjoyed the Governess' (Charlotte Attenborough's) company, there seemed little
justification for his wanting her to work at Bly House. Apart from her obvious enthusiasm, her major distinguishing characteristic
was an over-developed imagination - something emphasized in this production by the use of background music, which trilled
away as the Governess recalled her impressions of meeting the uncle for the first time. For his part the uncle fuelled her
dreams by portraying Bly as an earthly paradise peopled by two lovely children and a smiling housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Rosemary
Leach). His verbal picture proved so seductive that the Governess immediately accepted his offer - as she prepared to
leave, the sound of violins and cellos could be heard.
As things turned out, the uncle's assumptions as to the Governess' suitability proved
unfounded. Her imagination conjured up images of unbridled evil - that simply did not exist at Bly except in her mind - which
eventually drove her to hurt the children. The warning signs were there from the beginning - as the Governess described her
first alleged sighting of Quint (Jonathan Adams), the background music became doleful, as if to suggest that she had
now cast herself as the heroine of a Gothic melodrama. With this in mind, she began to assume more and more of a leading role
within the narrative. Mrs. Grose had once acted as a calming influence, her pragmatic, down-to-earth view of life at Bly contrasting
with the Governess' wild assumptions. However the housekeeper was abruptly silenced, as the Governess became more and more obsessed
with the "dreadful drama" of saving the children.
With this kind of personality supposedly in charge, it was hardly surprising that
Miles (Sam Crane) wanted to escape from Bly back to the comparative security of his boarding-school. He used the word "escape"
at least three times in one speech, suggesting desperation. His sister Flora (Sara Jane Derrick) experienced similar suffering,
particularly when the Governess tried to force her to acknowledge that she had seen Miss Jessel's ghost standing on the other
side of the lake. Flora burst out into hysterical fits of crying; it was palpably obvious that the Governess had driven her
to distraction. The real danger to the children was not the ghosts - who existed only within the Governess' imagination -
but the Governess herself.
Dearman drove this point home in the climactic scene, as the Governess forced Miles
to admit that he could see Quint. As she spoke, the background music rose to a deafening crescendo; Miles screamed "Peter
Quint ... you devil!" with a long pause taken between the two phrases, suggesting that the epithet "devil" referred not to
Quint but the Governess. He let out another despairing cry, while the Governess informed us in a melodramatic tone how
she hugged him tightly until his heart stopped. However we were inclined to doubt the truth of her words: perhaps the ending
was nothing more than the culmination of her Gothic fantasy, where she 'saves' the children from the ghosts, but sacrifices
Miles in the process. Given what we already knew about her, this seemed the most plausible explanation.
Tautly directed and ably performed by a first-rate cast, this Turn of the Screw
did not shy away from the story's ambiguities, while demonstrating at the same time the pitfalls of setting too much store
in Gothic romance.