I watch Joseph Losey & Harold Pinter's masterful British classic Accident - Review

Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Wednesday, April 17, 2013

accident-joseph-losey-harold-pinterAccident starts with a car crash, we don't see the crash, only hear it and then see the aftermath. This powerful opening sets the metaphoric tone for what we can expect from Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's masterpiece.  I recently had the privilege of re-watching the remastered 50th Anniversary edition of Pinter and Losey's first film the sublime The Servant which is noted as pioneering British Art House Cinema but with their second collaboration Accident it really feels as if they hit their stride.

Whilst The Servant took a look behind the closed doors of the inner workings of a dysfunctional and twisted relationship between James Fox's young aristocrat and his valet played by Dirk Bogarde. In many respects Accident is similar and explores correlated issues but is broader and more complex in scope, yet leave the feeling that in Pinter and Losey's world all men are fallible no matter their station or how noble their vocational pursuits. It is never fair to compare one film to another but I find that here it gives context to Losey and Pinter's working relationship and style of filmmaking - as Accident feels more polished, less extreme and a more fleshed out dramatic piece.

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Accident Film Poster (Click to enlarge)
With Accident the Losey/Pinter partnership turns their gaze to an academic town, adapting Nicholas Mosley's novel of the same same, and peel back the surface layers of civility to reveal a hotbed of deceit, jealousy, lust and inadequacy that leads to events that affects all the characters with tragic results. The story of Accident is told through 3 couples, played by some of Britain's greatest performers of the day;  Stephen ( Dirk Bogarde ) & Rosalind ( Vivien Merchant ), Charley ( Stanley Baker ) & Laura ( Ann Firbank ) and William ( Michael York ) & Jacqueline Sassard as Anna. But as this is the 60s the story focusses on the men of the piece and their intertwined relationships, whilst the women, the beating heart of the story steer the piece from within the folds.

Video: Accident Trailer

Accident tells the story of Stephen, Dirk Bogarde's character, an Oxford professor who is seemingly  undergoing  a mid life crisis and despite having a lovely home, wife, children and respected career wonders whether it is enough. Stephen already has a rivalrous relationship with his longtime friend and colleague the more macho Charley (Stanley Baker) who has become something of an academic celebrity through his books and TV show.

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Accident Michael York as William & Jacqueline Sassard as Anna (Click to enlarge)

The third of the triangle is William (Michael York) who Stephen has a decent enough pupil - mentor relationship with, then Losey & Pinter throws the young Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) amongst the cats and the game is afoot as some of the tendencies Bogarde masterfully exhibited in The Servant to bubble to the surface. Irrevocably altering the the dynamics of all the relationships involved and leads to events that have consequences for all.

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Accident Dirk Bogarde as Stephen and Jacqueline Sassard Anna (Click to enlarge)
As with The Servant, Accident is steeped in symbolism used to grand effect, like the accident which is a tragic car crash as well as a metaphor for the inevitable and regrettable fulfillment of Stephen's desires at any cost. There are some notably standout moments in the film particularly a scene where  Charley ( Stanley Baker ) fleshes out a story using the couples as characters whilst they lounge on the lawn,it is a joy to watch as it hints at undercurrents under the veneer as well as humorously break down devices of a story from a writer's perspective, that is Pinters view.

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Accident Anna Jacqueline Sassard and Charley Stanley Baker (Click to enlarge)
Losey also makes engaging  use of games and sports to combat the men against each bringing their competitiveness to the fore as well as convey the status of the men and their abilities. Initially these scenes are fun to watch but slowly become darker and sad, as these men, could just as easy be the best of mates playing to each others strengths, possibly even more so as Charley is also undergoing a similar mid life crisis.

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Accident Stephen Dirk Bogarde and William Michael York play indoor rugby games (Click to enlarge)
The love  - envy dynamic between Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker screams for a kind word or respite, which never comes and is anchored by Dirk Bogarde's unswaying agenda. Joseph Losey again makes uncanny use of sound and vision to colour his masterpiece representing the deep seated undercurrent passing under the veneer of suburban life. Speaking of colour this an added element that makes Accident seems decades ahead of its time and the remastered DVD version I saw looks glorious.

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Accident Dirk Bogarde's Stephen and Stanley Baker's Charley chat (Click to enlarge)
Another highlight for me was the disc Extras which offers up insight into both the making of Accident, the working relationship between Harold Pinter and Joseph Losey as well as bits on The Servant.

DVD & Blu-ray Extras:
-Talking About Accident documentary featuring an interview with Harry Pinter
-Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter discuss Accident (1957)
New additions
-Dirk Bogarde biographer John Coldstream discussing Dirk Bogarde
-Harry Pinter expert Harry Burton discussing Harold Pinter
-Interview with feminist author and academic Melanie Williams
-Interview with film critic Tim Robey

From the director of The Servant and The Go-Between comes Accident Out on DVD, Blu-ray & EST April 8th, 2013

A fatal car accident triggers an intense psychological drama in the second of the renowned collaborations between Joseph Losey and playwright-turned-screenwriter Harold Pinter. Reuniting the pair with Dirk Bogarde, the star of their first project, THE SERVANT (1963), ACCIDENT is based on a novel by Nicholas Mosley and remains one of Losey’s most “penetrating and pessimistic studies of human frailty”

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Accident Jacqueline Sassard's Anna &  Dirk Bogarde as Stephen (Click to enlarge)

ACCIDENT centres on a middle-aged man in crisis. Dirk Bogarde plays Stephen, a married Oxford don, seemingly content in his marriage to Rosalind (Vivien Merchant, wife of Harold Pinter) but underneath starting to fear emotional rot and feeling the social wounds of tutoring students above his station. Also silently resentful of his colleague Charley (Stanley Baker) and his sexual prowess, not to mention his burgeoning TV career, Stephen remains-functionally-drunk as often as possible. One night he is horrified when a car crashes near his country house in the middle of the night; finding the crash has killed William (Michael Yorke, in his screen debut) one of his aristocratic students with whom he has been locked in a duel of egos, jealous of the boy’s youthful vitality. The survivor is William’s fiancée, the enigmatic Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) who Stephen has been longing for an affair with, realising she could either revitalise – or ruin – his life. As the previous months’ events gradually unfold in flashback over a hot summer we see Stephen facilitating the original meeting between William and Anna, his seemingly magnanimous intentions concealing a rising tide of anxiety, self-centredness and sexual frustration. It soon becomes clear the recent car crash was no “accident” but rather mysteriously self-inflicted, a murderous final gesture or a collectively willed catastrophe.

“Lives skidding out of control is the subject of this quiet but unsparingly bitter film about personal, professional and mid-life crises hitting the intelligentsia where it hurts: in the head.” FILM 4

Winner of the 1967 Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, ACCIDENT was also nominated for 4 BAFTAS including Best British Film. This Home Entertainment release features the (year) restoration undertaken by the BFI, arriving on blu-ray for the first time. New exclusive extras created for the release include new interviews with film critics, and Pinter ands Bogarde experts to contextualize the achievements of one of the seminal films of 1960s British cinema.

Directed by Joseph Losey
Screenplay by Harold Pinter adapted from the novel by Nicholas Mosley
Starring Dirk Bogarde, Stanley Baker, Michael York & Jacqueline Sassard


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