My notes on the Brazilian Henry Jamesploitation spookfest Através da Sombra (Through the Shadow).
This sumptuous-looking, slightly prosaic adaptation of Henry James’ oft-dramatised novella The Turn of the Screw shifts the setting from an English country estate to a Brazilian coffee plantation – and slightly opens out the story, with a few scenes not from the viewpoint of governess Laura (Virginia Cavendish) that break the spell somewhat.
It keeps trying to juice up James: the uncle (Domingos Montagner) who hires Laura is introduced boxing dirty with a sparring partner, impressing the repressed ex-convent teacher with his sweaty singlet; on the train to the estate, Laura is tag-teamed by a pair of rural mashers who don’t get anywhere with her; a couple of living, sensual servants (darker-skinned than the main characters) are as sexually active in public as the ghosts were supposed to be; the Miles equivalent is compelled to recreate the fall from a horse that turned the Quint character into a ghost; and there are picturesque snippets of coffee-harvesting. Antonio (Xande Valois) and Elisa (Mel Maia), the children in the case, are insufficiently ambiguous – with the bespectacled lad creeping around, more intrepid than sinister.
The Quint figure is Bento (Alexandre Varella), who stands about with a slouch hat and a cloak like a rose-coloured Zorro – while the ghost governess stands on water. Cavendish is the latest actress to relish the chance to seethe with repressed sexuality in a tight black frock, though director Walter Lima Jr holds back from making much of the sexual tension between the governess, the ghost and the boy. It may be that this story has been done over so many times – with big shadows cast by Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and the Benjamin Britten opera – that it’s hard to get anything more out of it. Even switching countries isn’t radical enough to bring anything new to the table. Written by Lima, Nelson Caldas, Adriana Falcao and Guilherme Vasconcelos.