Daniel Craig & Rachel Weisz may be playing an on stage couple in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal shortly but 50 years ago he adapted Robin Maugham's The Servant with Joseph Losey to break new ground in British cinema. To be honest this review may have read slightly differently had I not watched the upcoming re-release of Joseph Losey & Harold Pinter's Accident shortly after The Servant and gained some further insight into Losey's works - when collaborating with Harold Pinter, Joseph Losey shines, the man is an artist.
I am not overly familiar with Joseph Losey's works apart from of course, the brilliance of The Servant which I chased down early, being an aficionado of Dirk Bogarde's acting. I have always held his performance as the homme fatale and the eponymous servant Barrett in high esteem along with some of his other brave performances in films like; Death in Venice and The Night Porter, roles with depth that he took on after shaking off his mainstream matinee idol image he gained with his previous crowd pleasing films and his performance in The Servant is one of his finest. My understanding is that Losey's partnership with Harold Pinter gave birth to Losey taking creative control of his works and creating some of the best films of his career and The Servant is the first of them.
|The Servant Film Poster|
There is so much ambiguity; both in interpreting and weaved into Losey's The Servant that we may never fully decode its secrets, or at least possibly until the 50th Anniversary release Blu-ray which may offer up some insight. But when discussed, two common themes are always brought to the fore; hidden homosexuality and a class war - but for me The Servant was always a hauntingly dark tale of greed underpinned by a psychological war of personality.
One of the characters Tony (James Fox) has the power and whilst enjoying the benefits of it, doesn't really care much for it beyond his existence - whilst the other Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) has never had it and would do anything to gain it. This theme is similary explored in another of my other favourite films - Performance by Donald Cammell and the great Nicolas Roeg made almost a decade later. Ironically or synchronistically the Performance plays out in a similar setting, just 3 miles away from Tony's pad in Chelsea, but with some role reversal as Mick Jagger plays Turner, a rock god whilst this time James Fox is Chas the criminal on the run ensconced in Turners home and life.
|The Servant Dirk Bogarde & James Fox in the mirror (Click to enlarge)|
|The Servant Dirk Bogarde watches over a sleeping James Fox (Click to enlarge)|
|The Servant James Fox & Sarah Miles in the shadows (Click to enlarge)|
But an even more vital clue comes later when Tony is relaxing on the sofa, struggling with a crossword puzzle he interrupts a harried Barrett [who is trying to clean and launches into complaining about the mess - a delightful scene showing that their relationship has progressed to something akin to an old married couple] for his advice on a clue he can't solve:
“ Waxed, so it can wane, 5 letters ”We never found out the answer but the cryptic clue itself gives away much about the transient nature of change. Additionally there are many easier clues that would have sufficed for anyone who cared to answer the question. For 4 letters the Moon or tide what have worked so why such a tough clue? Could the answer be deeper and more relevant to the themes of The Servant? P O W E R (5 letters).
Of course there is merit in framing The Servant with a class war - this is a theme that would have been topical for the period, this was afterall the beginning of the 60s when Britian's as well as indeed the worlds social and class structures were being questioned and challenged. Additionally Joseph Losey had fled his native America after refusing to adhere to the Mccarthy era witch hunts and was known for his liberal stance that he would vehemently defend. The lead characters of The Servant are from different classes and these opposing views and perspectives would feed, drive and motivate the characters.
|The Servant Harold Pinter cameos as society man in restaurant (Click to enlarge)|
Tony has the power and whilst enjoying the benefits of it doesn't really care much for it beyond that, whilst Barrett has never had it and would do anything to gain it. What follows is a chilling cat and (unaware) mouse tale as the balance of power between the two shifts. Told in look and feel as much as in performances and we are left wondering how far can a man fall? And what dark lengths would man go to reach his goal? This is a technique Losey refined and masterfully employs to full effect in a less extreme atmosphere in his second collaboration with Pinter - Accident.
|The Servant Dirk Bogarde & Wendy Craig (Click to enlarge)|
|Photo The Servant James Fox as Tony & Sarah Miles as Vera (Click to enlarge)|
|The Servant James Fox in the pub (Click to enlarge)|
Sadly the DVD version of the The Servant I watched was intended for review before the restored films big screen release in March so the features I had access to - Film Analysis By Ian Christie, Theatrical Trailer, Filmographies and Photo Gallery , although interesting, particularly Ian Christie's discussion -were light in comparison to the extras that will be available on the upcoming DVD & Blu-ray re-release of The Servant, something that I feel would be rather engaging given the compelling insight in the extras on the Accident DVD that I have seen.
The Home Entertainment DVD release April 8th will feature specially created new extras including award winning director Richard Ayoade (Submarine) interviewing James Fox and new interviews with Wendy Craig and Sarah Miles. In addition a blu-ray release will come in the form of a STUDIOCANAL COLLECTION series disc with the accompanying exclusive packaging, and exclusively created booklet and further unique featurettes including an interview with Stephen Wooley, archive interview footage and others with film experts and biographers to create an ultimate ‘cinephile’ edition for the collector.
James Fox interviewed by Richard Ayoade
Interview with Wendy Craig
Interview with Sarah Miles
Audio interview with Douglas Slocombe (Director of photography)
Harold Pinter Tempo interview
Joseph Losey talks about The Servant
All DVD extras above plus
Interview with Stephen Wooley (fan of the film)
Harry Burton (Pinter expert) on Harold Pinter
Joseph Losey and Adolfas Mekas at the New York film festival
John Coldstream (Bogarde biographer) on Dirk Bogarde
The Servant 50th Anniversary Out on DVD & Blu-ray April 8th, 2013
Marking the start of what became one of the most potent creative partnerships of British 1960s cinema, Losey and acclaimed playwright-turned-screenwriter Harold Pinter united to create a disturbing tale of seduction, sexual and social tension and psychological control.
The Servant is a stunning dissection of two men, the idle, wealthy young bachelor Tony (James Fox, Performance, The Remains Of The Day) and his new servant Barrett (Dirk Bogarde, Accident, Death In Venice).
Pinter’s razor sharp script unravels the ups and downs of class warfare and sexual games, as the two men play a constant tug of war for power. Recently returned from Africa, Tony recruits Barrett, a ‘gentlemen’s gentlemen’, to get his life in order. Barrett initially seems like a paragon of domestic virtue, and they settle comfortably and closely into their roles as master and servant. Only Tony’s perceptive bride-to-be Susan (Wendy Craig), increasingly threatened by the control Barrett is imposing on her fiancées life, starts to suspect something is amiss and makes her loathing of the manservant increasingly clear. When Barrett introduces his supposed "sister" Vera (Sarah Miles, Blow-Up, Hope And Glory) into the house as maid, the psychodrama escalates as Vera, with Barrett’s encouragement, soon insinuates herself into Tony's bed. Are the pair working together to play upon Tony's vulnerabilities, whether for fun or profit? As their perverse psychological grip on Tony tightens, the power dynamic between Tony and Barrett dramatically switches and in their increasingly mutually dependent, often erotically-charged relationship, Tony becomes the eager-to-please lackey and Barrett starts to hold the reins of power.
Directed by Joseph Losey
Screenplay by Harold Pinter adapted from the novel by Robin Maugham
Starring Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig & James Fox
|The Servant Blu-ray Poster (Click to enlarge)|
The Establishing Shot: JOSEPH LOSEY & HAROLD PINTER'S BRILLIANT THE SERVANT GETS A RESTORED 50TH ANNIVERSARY RE-RELEASE THE SERVANT REVIEW