From Britten's Children by John Bridcut (London: Faber & Faber, 2010), first published in England in 2006.
The Turn of the Screw is arguably the most tautly and ingeniously constructed of all his operas, both musically and dramatically. Britten had been ill for several months with bursitis in his right shoulder, which meant he was unable to use his right arm. He had not composed anything of substance since the completion of Winter Words the previous September. His infatuation with David Hemmings perhaps spurred his creativity after a period of enforced idleness, just as Aschenbach’s creative paralysis was unlocked by his obsession with Tadzio. It was another foretaste of Death in Venice some twenty years later.
The infatuation (and it is Hemmings’s own word) lasted for most of the two years he worked with Britten. Charles Mackerras, who conducted at Aldeburgh in the mid-1950s, saw it at first hand. ‘David Hemmings was an extremely good-looking young chap and he also very much played up to Ben’s obvious adoration of him, and drank it in. You know how a person looks at someone if they’re in love with them – their face lights up when he or she comes into the room, and they give them precedence in everything. Ben’s behaviour was so much that of the besotted lover that one thought that maybe he might have behaved improperly with him eventually. But if we can believe David Hemmings (and I do), there was no “hanky-panky” at all. Obviously it was a sexual attraction but I’m sure that it was never actually fulﬁlled.’
David Hemmings in Venice, Italy (September 1953).