The Servant (1963) (NR)

Drama 115 July 26, 2013
By Zachary Wigon
Exemplifying a key break in cinematic storytelling, Joseph Losey's The Servant, from 1963, marks the moment where the direct "cinema of quality" was passed over in favor of a cinema concerned with the unacknowledged desires that lurk under the veneer of everyday life. Those desires color the increasingly contentious relationship between London aristocrat Tony (James Fox) and his new butler, Bennett (Dirk Bogarde). The relationship begins to transform when Bennett's beautiful "sister" (Sarah Miles) moves in, exposing the myriad ways in which desire extends itself beyond class boundaries in British society. Appearing initially as perhaps an upstairs-downstairs drama like The Rules of the Game, The Servant quickly confounds expectations via Losey's incorporation of jarring handheld camerawork and glimpses of Bennett's festering resentments. Losey's ingredients are one part aristocratic film, one part angry-young-man movie-- just as the former was shoving out the latter in 1960s England. Yet rather than a mere historical benchmark indicating a cultural shift, The Servant adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Mixing techniques as surely as it mixes class (graceful dolly shots are placed side-by-side with the handheld photography), the picture’s clever formalist juxtapositions evoke the hysterical confusion of a culture in upheaval. The viewer is left with not only a portrait of the haves and the have-nots, but a glimpse of what such social stratification provokes—an all-consuming madness as powerful as it is hidden.
Joseph Losey Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, James Fox, Catherine Lacey Harold Pinter Rialto Pictures

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