Revisit the Tension and Longing of British Cult-Classic Accident (1967)


Broadly speaking, the importance of 1967 to the history of cinema has less to do with the caliber of films released that year than the sense of reinvention they together heralded. Blowup had obviated the Hays Production Code the year before, setting a precedent for transgression that would soon be seized upon throughout the mainstream.

But while the American cinema was notoriously revolutionized by The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, British film quietly yielded a counter-culture classic of its own, helmed by a Yankee maverick living in exile abroad. Accident, directed by Wisconsin–born Joseph Losey and scripted by playwright Harold Pinter, does for the midlife crisis what The Graduate did for coming of age, taking a traditional drama about sexual longing and middle-class ennui and reinvigorating it for a time when popular art demanded something new.

The film tells the story of Stephen (Dirk Bogarde), a 40-year-old professor of philosophy at Oxford who spends his summer tutoring Anna (Jacqueline Sassard), a beautiful student with whom he finds himself enamored, and William (Michael York), the virile jock she’s jubilantly courting. Stephen’s silent yearning becomes unbearable when he discovers that Anna is also sleeping with Charley (Stanley Baker), his esteemed colleague, whose success at work and with women ignites the fuse of Stephen’s resentment.

Accident charts the slow burn down to detonation, the tension mounting with the threat of violence. Losey and Pinter locate the pain that lurks deep within complacency, and the film positively throbs with it. It’s an old idea, perhaps. But in their hands it hurts anew.