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From Her to Eternity: The Enduring Icy Hotness of Deborah Kerr

From Her to Eternity: The Enduring Icy Hotness of Deborah Kerr

Every time Miss Giddens walks past the white roses that accent every room in the gloomy mansion setting of Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, a shiver of petals falls to the floor. But the roses are newly cut and shouldn’t shed; we can see them blooming in the garden, fresh and alive, dewdrops clinging to them prettily like tears. Beyond what we can see of her—straight back; tightly trussed, high-necked gowns; neat hair; placid expression—it’s as if there is some invisible astringency that flows outward from the governess, rotting the flowers, corrupting the pure.

It’s this quality in The Innocents—a version of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw that all but dispenses with the novella’s ambiguity by portraying the governess protagonist as almost certainly not-haunted, and almost definitely batshit insane with hysterically repressed and tragically projected sexual paranoia—that makes the role a kind of apotheosis for the often misapprehended Deborah Kerr. Her best roles not only played on her willingness to subvert the unshakable image of pristine probity that became attached to her, they relied on it: Miss Giddens would not be half so terrifying if her porcelain exterior had, at the outset, a single hairline crack in it. It is her aura of scrupulous competence and brisk, British common sense that makes her madness so deliciously perverse.

Top of page: Black Narcissus; above: The Innocents
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