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Servant, The (reissue)


Stars: Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, Catherine Lacey, Patrick Magee, Richard Vernon, Ann Firbank, Jill Melford

Director: Joseph Losey

An illogical ending is the only sin committed by this shiveringly good piece of storytelling and direction that shocked cinemagoers in its day, and still merits a 15 certificate in the 21st century. Although it's admittedly a gloomy film, riddled with evil, a realistic solution is sacrificed in favour of an effective, tragic, but tricksy and artificial ending.

Tony (Fox, fine in his breakthrough role as an adult actor), is a spoiled young aristocrat, who sows the seeds of his own destruction by hiring Barrett (a scarily amoral Bogarde), whose immediate malevolent influence is apparent to Tony's fiancée Susan (Craig), but sadly not to Tony himself.

Slowly, insidiously, Barrett takes control of the house. He introduces his mistress (Miles) as a maid, saying she is his sister, and engineers Tony's seduction by her. The servants leave when Tony and Susan find out the truth about their relationship. But for Tony it is too late. He has become too dependent on Barrett to do without him and lives in squalor until taking the servant back after Barrett's token apology.

The positions of the two men are now gradually reversed, until the weak-willed Tony disintegrates into a hollow shell, incapable of self-action.

Bogarde finds a whole new dimension to his acting as Barrett, particularly in the funnier scenes after Tony has re-engaged him, when for a brief while he becomes more akin to a nagging housewife. The revelation of this film, however, searingly well written by Harold Pinter, is the outstanding performance of Craig. In a role less easy to coax response from than the other three, she rivets attention to herself throughout.

David Quinlan

USA 1963. UK Distributor: Associated British. Black and white.
116 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Mar 2013