The Servant (1963)

A young aristocrat hires a manservant to tend to his needs but finds the balance of power shifting, in a claustrophobic thriller that probes British class culture.

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“The thing that is most exhilarating about the film is that it has been written by someone who is obviously excited by the cinema and made by someone who obviously respects words.”
Penelope Gilliatt, The Observer, 1963

Adapted by celebrated playwright Harold Pinter from a story by Robin Maugham, The Servant sees spoiled young aristocrat Tony (James Fox) carelessly recruit a servant, Barrett (Dirk Bogarde), whose deferential demeanour belies the resentment, ambition and even sadism that will see him incrementally seek to assume Tony’s position for himself.

Explicitly class-conscious, The Servant plays out as a savage struggle for power, with property, sex and social assurance both the weapons and the prizes. Sarah Miles as Barrett’s ‘sister’ and Wendy Craig as Tony’s girlfriend are convincing, but it’s foppish Fox and slippery Bogarde who dominate, their conflict depicted in director Joseph Losey’s precisely constructed compositions.

Pinter and American émigré Losey went on to collaborate on Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1970). Performance (1970), also with James Fox, offers another claustrophobic take on later 1960s London.

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