The Servant

Review by Rich Cline | 5/5   MUST must see SEE

The Servant
dir Joseph Losey
scr Harold Pinter
prd Joseph Losey, Norman Priggen
with Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, Catherine Lacey, Richard Vernon, Patrick Magee, Ann Firbank, Alun Owen, Harold Pinter, Doris Knox, Jill Melford
release UK 14.Nov.63,
US 16.Mar.64
restoration UK 10.Sep.21
63/UK 1h56

bogarde fox miles

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bogarde and fox
Pristinely restored for the big screen, this classic British drama boasts a tightly wound script by Harold Pinter and ambitious direction from Joseph Losey. Still bracingly current, the film evokes darkly twisted emotions in an edgy story about obsession and control. A clear influence on Parasite, the film grapples with challenging themes as its characters spiral around each other in a stunningly written and played storm of insinuation.
Arriving at a Knightsbridge townhouse, Barrett (Bogarde) applies for the job as manservant to posh new owner Tony (Fox). And Barrett is effortlessly efficient, even against resistance from Tony's steely fiancee Susan (Craig). Then as he becomes indispensable, Tony agrees that Barrett's sister Vera (Miles) can move in to work as the housekeeper. But Barrett and Vera have some sort of secret plan in the works, and both intend to seduce Tony in their own way. But Susan is on to them, sparking a series of tense power plays between these four intertwined people.
The film is expertly shot in shimmering black and white by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, playing with spaces and angles in Tony's home, often using reflections to reveal unexpected dynamics both between people and inside each of them. And John Dankworth's score is a masterclass in creating tension that continually disorients the audience. So as the story becomes increasingly deranged, shifting into a series of completely new directions, we're not sure we want to go along with it any more. But we definitely can't look away.

Bogarde and Fox are simply stunning in the central roles as two men circling around each other, never overtly reacting to the riot of double entendre that fills both the dialog and the imagery. Scenes veer from being hilarious to agonising to darkly emotive, and both actors glide through these tonal shifts, revealing depth of character far beneath the gyrations of the plot. Miles and Craig are similarly complex and provocative, barely interacting with each other but pointedly driving the connection between the men.

It's well worth taking any chance to see these gloriously produced classics on a big screen, where the audience can share their nervous laughter and stunned gasps while savouring every morsel of Pinter's brittle dialog. Conversations adeptly dodge everything these people actually want to say, revealing secrets through what remains unspoken. This is a smart and still shocking film that must have been downright sensational in 1963. And it deserves to be rediscovered so it can speak to us today.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall