Thursday, 31 May 2012

Costumes in 'The Turn of the Screw'

The BBC's 2009 film adaptation of Henry James' Victorian Gothic novella 'The Turn of the Screw' features some exquisite costumes. Although the original ghost-story was published in 1898, director Tim Fywell sets the story in the 1920s and provides the viewer with an intense and disconcerting version of the narrative, exploiting the ambiguity of the book's content and Gothic conventions.

This film is beautifully crafted - the voyeuristic camera angles and surprising editing create a strong sense of suspense and paranoia - however it is Charlotte Walter's costume design, in particular her designs for the character of Flora, that stood out to me.

Living in a manor house in the country, Miles and Flora live a sheltered and secluded life with only their governess and servants. This is reflected in Flora's outfits, which not only convey her wealth, but also reflect this lifestyle of staying at home all day, playing. Her headdresses and headband, for example, would not be normal everyday wear for little girls in the 20s, and come across as sort of 'dressing-up'. These portray could portray innocence, but in their extravagance also hint at Flora's need to act older than her years, as would be the case if the governess' suspicions about Miss Jessel corrupting the children were true.

Walter's designs for Miles' costumes are equally important in ambiguously supporting Ann's suspicions. As he arrives at the train station, eerily appearing from a cloud of smoke, he wears a very adult suit - or is it a school uniform? The questions raised in regard to costume mirror those is Ann's mind.

My favourite costume item in the film would have to be Flora's feather headband, pictured below. The combination of slow-motion filming and the feathers moving around as Flora runs is breathtaking, as are the rich, vibrant colours: reds, pinks and dark purples, contrasted with bright summery white - incredibly beautiful!

Costume designer Charlotte Walter also worked on the Working Title/BBC production of 'Birdsong', an incredibly successful adaptation of the narrative set in WWI, and also contributed to 'The Scapegoat', a film set in the 1950s to be released later this year.

'The Turn of the Screw', BBC, 2009 is available on DVD.

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