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United Kingdom 1963
Directed by
Joseph Losey
1963 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Servant

Based on a novel by Robin Maugham turned into a stage play by Harold Pinter who also did the script, The Servant is a compelling allegorical portrait of the breaking down of British class structure as the gentry mix with the opportunistic lower classes to their own detriment in Swinging London of the early 60s. James Fox plays an upper class gentleman, Tony, recently returned to London from some colonial venture who hires a man-servant Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde).  Tony is delighted with the solicitous Barrett but his girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig) finds him creepy. Then Barrett invites his “sister” (Sarah Miles) down from Manchester to be the housemaid and things really start to go pear-shaped.

In what is essentially a four-hander, Losey manages the transposition to the screen well, making telling use of reflections, mirrors, shadows and so on to create a foreboding atmosphere in what is a story of shifting power relations. Psychologically, the film is less convincing, building well to the climactic showdown between the two couples, but then simply shifting gears and putting Tony and Barrett in some near homo-erotic dynamic and given up to degenerate behaviour (a scenario was much better realized in Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg’s 1970 film Performance  in which Fox starred opposite Mick Jagger).

Nevertheless, the film is classic of the period, one of Losey's most effective and also one of Bogarde's most memorable roles, whilst for newcomer Fox it began a long career playing public school toffs.




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