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Jodhi May's Heavy-Eyed Beauty Takes On A Classic Tale
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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