A prequel of sorts to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, The Nightcomers is a sexually charged gothic thriller with Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham.This is the type of film which could only have come from director Michael Winner as it oozes with the director’s perverse cinematic style and while it’s not necessarily a bad film, it’s certainly an odd one.
Brando plays Peter Quint the groundsman of a mansion who is having an illicit love affair Miss Jessel (Stephanie Beacham), the governess of Flora and Miles (Verna Harvey and Christopher Ellis). The disapproving housekeeper (Thora Hird) keeps a watchful eye on their goings on as the children begin to become affected by the lover’s strange relationship.
It’s doubtful that The Nightcomers would ever be made today. The world was a different place back in 1971 and therefore I guess it was okay to have a pair of kids partake in some bondage play! It makes for uneasy viewing but one of the interesting things about cinema is how you can view the world and morals through different spectrums.
Brando and Beacham are the central characters in Winner’s film and they deliver, although Beacham is over shadowed by Brando’s power. His Irish accented Quint is an interesting character that is part fool and part brute and Brando adds tiny brush strokes to add texture and layers to what could have been a very thinly rendered character. It’s not the actor’s best work, but it shows that he can build a character out the the flimsiest of material. The Nightcomers came at the end of Brando’s wilderness period and was realised a year before The Godfather relaunched his career.
A curiosity piece rather than essential viewing, The Nightcomers isn’t Marlon Brando or Michael Winner’s best work (although it’s probably a career high for Stephanie Beacham). It’s an interesting take on Henry James’ source material, although the added kink means that it’s more of an erotic drama than a highbrow literary adaptation. It highlights the rebellious nature of Winner and Brando, two men who could run riot when they weren’t kept on a tight leash.