September 10, 2021
The subversive 1963 classic crackles with undertones of class, sexuality and communism, with Dirk Bogarde at his finest as the sociopathic manservant
The Servant review – Losey and Pinter’s nightmarish version of Jeeves and Wooster
Joseph Losey’s monochrome psycho-horror satire from 1963 is now re-released; it took an expatriate American to orchestrate this very English festival of class, fear, sex and shame with its menacing screenplay by Harold Pinter. Dirk Bogarde stars as the sinister manservant who gradually gains psychological control over his weak-willed master played by James Fox. The film was first considered unreleasably upsetting and weird, and notoriously gathered dust for a year on the shelf while Bogarde was humiliatingly forced to make another of the cheesy Doctor comedies he was trying to put behind him – Doctor in Distress – to pay off a tax bill.
Bogarde plays Barrett, a professional manservant whose manner is sometimes self-effacingly blank, sometimes ingratiating, camp and cunning. He is hired as a live-in valet by Tony (Fox), a spoilt and indolent young man on a private income who lives in a handsome London townhouse. Barrett soon makes himself indispensable, parasitically reducing the already lazy Tony to a state of infantilised torpor, becoming a kind of wife to him, to the irritation of Tony’s actual fiancee Susan (Wendy Craig). Then Barrett asks if his sister Vera (Sarah Miles) can come as the live-in maid, and the sexy Vera entrances Tony – who gets weaker, more reliant on drink and hopelessly submissive in the face of Barrett’s controlling mind games.
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