The Servant. Film Review

servant_10THE SERVANT

Director: Joseph Losey                    

Screenwriter: Harold Pinter (from the novella by Robin Maugham)

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles & Wendy Craig

Certificate: 15    

Running Time: 112 mins

DVD & Blu-ray

Reviewed by Guy Adams

This is a movie about reversal of fortunes, both off and on screen. The first major film role of actor, James Fox; the first screenwriting credit of Harold Pinter, masterly author of such ‘comedies of menace’ as The Caretaker and The Birthday Party; Pinter’s first collaboration with Joseph Losey, a director who had been blacklisted in the US due to his being a member of the communist party. It also cemented star, Dirk Bogarde’s metamorphosis from screen idol to heavyweight presence, a process begun in 1961‘s Victim, which featured Bogarde as barrister, blackmailed for being gay (a role arguably close to the star’s heart).

Losey being ostracized from Hollywood was certainly a boon to UK cinema and Losey himself later denied bitterness in a 1983 interview  “Without it I would have three Cadillacs, two swimming pools and millions of dollars, and I’d be dead. It was terrifying, it was disgusting, but you can get trapped by money and complacency. A good shaking up never did anyone any harm.” Which is certainly true and just as well as ‘a good shaking up’ is exactly what Losey would give his audiences in The Servant.

The movie creeps, much like it’s titular character, moving quietly on soft-soled shoes, building towards a final third that is remorseless on its viewers. Fox plays Tony, a wet and ineffectual socialite who hires Bogarde’s Barrett to be his manservant. Barrett slowly takes up the reigns of power until their roles are reversed.

Macabre, beautiful and utterly compelling, The Servant is one of our finest films. Winning three BAFTA awards on its release: Best Actor for Bogarde, Most Promising Newcomer for Fox and Best British Cinematography (B/W) for Douglas Slocombe’s sublime visuals. The latter are particularly well-served by this HD re-release on Blu-ray, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the film.

If you’ve seen the film before you know it’s worth the upgrade, (especially given the wealth of special features including new and archive interviews and discussion from Fox, Craig, Miles, Losey and Pinter)  if you haven’t then I envy you. The Servant is a flawless and timeless picture. It’s a film that bites, and StudioCanal have ensured their edition does so with the sharpest possible teeth.

Released April 8th