Britten: The Turn of the Screw

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

ALBUM TITLE: Britten: Turn of the Screw
WORKS: The Turn of the Screw
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore, Lisa Milne, Catrin Wyn Davies, Diana Montague, Nicholas Kirby Johnson, Caroline Wise, City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox
With its short intimate scenes and concentrated lines, the Screw is so cinematic that it’s surprising there’s only been one previous film, Czech director Petr Weigl’s well-known adaptation dubbed to Colin Davis’s CD recording. This, therefore, is the first fully integrated film, and it succeeds at every level. Katie Mitchell directs very much in the BBC classic manner, but with a distinctly feminine touch, relieving the acid misogyny. She begins awkwardly, illustrating the Prologue only with extraneous images of the children laying flowers on a grave in (apparently) Highgate, but renders Bly’s grand but bleak interiors and iron-grey woodlands splendidly atmospheric. Weigl’s ghosts arose, more originally, from blazing summer light, but here they’re authentically dank and British.


Hickox and his exceptional cast capture beautifully the escalating tension that makes the score so gripping in the theatre. Lisa Milne sings the Governess as finely as any on disc; more plumply prosaic than the usual tormented waif, her growing hysteria is all the more alarming. By contrast Diana Montague’s Mrs Grose is unusually tall and patrician, but utterly convincing. Catrin Wyn Davies is a sensuous, eerie Miss Jessel, but Mark Padmore’s Quint, though mellifluous, could use more supernatural menace, and the red hair we’re told about. Caroline Wise and Nicolas Kirkby Johnson as the children, though, are ideal – not overdramatised fallen angels but outwardly normal, and they sing with genuine expressive power.


No wonder this has just won a Viennese TV award. It’s one of the truest opera films to date. Michael Scott Rohan