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PREVIOUSLY PLAYED

THE SERVANT

1:10*

Sunday, March 10

*Introduced by David Thomson

(1963, Joseph Losey) “I’m a gentleman’s gentleman and you’re no bloody gentleman!” Upper crust James Fox thinks he’s found a “treasure” in Jeeves-efficient new butler Dirk Bogarde – just the man to put his life and swankily restored Knightbridge townhouse in order – though his frightfully stuck-up fiancée Wendy Craig sniffs more than disapprovingly. But after Bogarde’s mini-skirted “sister” Sarah Miles suddenly shows up on Fox’s doorstep, the line of demarcation between Upstairs and Downstairs blurs, in American blacklistee Losey’s pioneering Mod psychodrama, the first of three collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter (who can be glimpsed in a restaurant cameo). With jazz score by John Dankworth (and vocals by his wife Cleo Lane, heard on an eros-arousing LP) and stunning b&w camerawork by Douglas Slocombe (Kind Hearts and Coronets, Man in The White Suit, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc., etc.). DCP. Approx. 116 min.

Reviews

“Iconographically, a British counterpart to La Dolce Vita… But The Servant transcends contemporary echoes of early 1960s infatuation with the jaded rich to claim a piece for itself as a work of enduring value… Through décor, camera work, editing, sound and direction of actors, Losey fully realizes Pinter’s intentions. [He] brings to the assignment a maturity and easy, a rip command of the grammar of film, that far surpass his previous achievements. With The Servant, he is no longer merely unusual or eccentric, he is no longer something of an oddity, but a director of the first rank, and absolute master of the craft.”
– Foster Hirsch

“Gay sexuality is everywhere and nowhere in this movie, and Pinter’s sleek, indirect dialogue hints at suppressed and unacknowledged desire. The emotional mind games escalate: the servant becomes the master, and both men are secretly ashamed; Fox having fraternized with the lower orders, and Bogarde of having been trifled with by his employer. This is what unites them in their private and intensely English danse macabre. It is a brilliant, subversive account of class relations and the changing times.”
– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“In terms of tone and mood, The Servant stands almost alone. You’d have to seek out two other guys-go-mad-in-a-flat movies, Performance and Dead Ringers, to find anything that approaches its atmosphere of febrile desperation and deepening identity confusion. The performances are note-perfect and Pinter’s script is smart, subversive and sly, lifting the lid on our age-old feudal hierarchy and having a good dig about inside. But it’s Losey’s direction which sets the nerves jangling: all deep shadows, distorted reflections and glowering close-ups, he quite literally takes us through the looking glass into a charged, claustrophobic fever dream of privilege, power and perversion.” 
– Tom Huddleston, Time Out (London)