marks the start of one of the most potent creative partnerships in 1960s British cinema, between ex-pat American director Joseph Losey and playwright-turned-screenwriter Harold Pinter--a teaming that also gave birth to Accident
(1967) and The Go-Between
(1970). It was a key film for Dirk Bogarde, too, the first of four he made with Losey that let him make the transition from lightweight matinee idol ("I was the Loretta Young of my day") to seriously regarded actor.
The Servant--amazingly, Pinter's first screenplay--quivers with sexual and social tension and unspoken menace. Tony (ex-child actor James Fox in his first adult role), an affable but none too bright young man living in Chelsea, advertises for a manservant to keep his household in order. What he gets is Barrett (Bogarde), buttoned-up and porkpie-hatted, whose deferential courtesy barely conceals his lacerating contempt for Tony and everything he stands for. Steadily he proceeds to take over, ousting Tony's posh fiancée and installing his sluttish "sister" (Sarah Miles) to complete the hapless young man's downfall. Douglas Slocombe's insidious camera, sidling and lurking to catch unexpected angles as the mood darkens, subtly maps the shifts of the power relationship. Here, as in their two later films together, Losey's outsider viewpoint catches the nuances and cruelties of the English class system in a cool, beady-eyed stare, while Pinter's flair for the unstated meanings between and behind what's said sharpens the pitch-black comedy as it slides towards nightmare.
On the DVD: the only extra feature is the theatrical trailer, stylishly understated. The print's flagged as "widescreen", which is a bit overstated for 1.66:1 (the original ratio). No sign of remastering on either sound or vision, but it's a good clean transfer. --Philip Kemp
Dirk Bogarde (Ill Met by Moonlight; Victim; Darling; Death in Venice; A Bridge Too Far) and then newcomer James Fox (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines; Performance; The Remains of the Day) star in this the first of three acclaimed films from director Joseph Losey and screenwriter Harold Pinter (the others being; Accident & The Go-Between), which deal with the English class system and it's waning hold over all aspects of the working and cultural life of Britain.
Conniving manservant Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) takes up a job as servant to the foppish aristocrat Tony (Fox) in his smart new townhouse and slowly begins to insinuate himself into the house and his masters life to such an extent that the roles slowly become reversed.
Co-starring Wendy Craig (The Nanny; Tv's - Butterflies; The Royal) as Tony's disapproving girlfriend Susan & Sarah Miles (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines; Ryan's Daughter; White Mischief) as Barrett's sexually permissive 'sister', it's a powerful drama, superbly acted by all which still grips the viewer after almost 50 years !.