Harold Pinter, most renowned for his plays, also spent a considerable amount of time writing screenplays (with a sideline in cameo roles), collaborating with director Joseph Losey on a number of feature films. Two of these, The Servant and Accident , both of which star Dirk Bogarde, have recently been re-issued. The Servant has just reached its fiftieth anniversary, and is one of the films that, in many ways, epitomised a number of aspects that defined the ‘Swinging Sixties’, eschewing established cultural and social norms. The key strengths for both films lie with their mixture of characterisation and genre conventions that defy expectations – a combination of the dramatic portrayal of the upper classes with kitchen sink modernity.
‘Apart from the cooking I’ll need, well, everything.’
Rich young socialite Tony (James Fox), with a penchant for drink, even if it’s just a beer before lunch, desires what any posh aristocratic upstart needs, that is, a man-servant to help him deal with all the mundane things in life. Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) is the man he hires to complete the chores that cause him bores. ‘Forgot to tell you, I’ve found a man-servant,’ he casually informs his fiancée Susan (Wendy Craig), who is none too pleased about the presence of the servant in the house, even one who is willing to provide warm water for frozen feet during the cold weather. Tony, wanting to appease everyone, tries to stop her harassment of ‘Basher Barrett’ by indicating that, ‘He may be a servant but he’s still a human being.’ However such expressions are platitudes. The links between master and servant become complicated when Vera (Sarah Miles), Barrett’s ‘sister’, comes to stay, after Barratt has successfully convinced Tony that he needs a housemaid. But Tony’s complacency and Barratt’s ulterior motives lead to a breakdown in the defined relationships within the home. Who is really in control of the household?
The Servant is a taut and finely crafted drama which explores issues of class and power in a modern and changing society. But, even though the Sixties were a time of social change, the final revelations remain shocking in their outcome. The emerging relationship between Tony and Barrett was notable for its depiction on screen, particularly at the time of the film’s release, although the script managed to avoid the censorship that could well have resulted because the filmmakers managed to get a release through pre-shoot screenplay negotiation with the BBFC. There are strong hints of homosexuality between the main protagonists and, whilst these are not depicted explicitly, they are certainly implied, which makes The Servant a rarity for its time. Indeed the original release of the film was well received and not only confirmed Dirk Bogarde’s position as a desirable lead actor but also helped launch James Fox’s career.
The disc has a useful array of extras, including a number of interviews with some of the key players and discussions on the background to the film. Overall another worthwhile re-emergence of a British classic film (and another Golden anniversary to add to last year’s James Bond celebrations) that is as interesting a watch today as it is a distinctive product of its time.
‘Are there many dons like you?’
Birth and death, pregnancy and fatality collide. An accident?
Oxford professor Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) sees the awful results of a car accident outside his home that sees two of his university tutees William (Michael York) and Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) injured, one of them fatally. We then flash back to events leading up to this, exploring the relationships between a close-knit group of people where not only are class and cultural backgrounds important, but also the protagonists’ family responsibilities, educational endeavours, friendships and professional associations. This is a film where the interactions between the characters twist our expectations of their relationships as the plot reveals its secrets.
Stephen is a don who lives a relaxed, sociable and welcoming lifestyle with his wife and children in his plush countryside accommodation close to campus. When he invites William and Anna to come over to the family home for Sunday lunch he is surprised when his fellow don Charley (Stanley Baker) shows up as well. The catering isn’t the issue, but his presence certainly affects the group dynamics. And, between the church bells ringing and the dripping of the kitchen tap as yet another meal is prepared, it is clear that infidelities are in the air.
Adapted from the novel by Nicholas Mosley, Accident is a drama where class and culture collide with affairs and academia. In many respects, the accident itself is a Macguffin, the denouement that occurs at the beginning of the story; a tragic consequence of the complex relationships that have developed between the characters. The academic lifestyle initially seems idyllic as we enjoy scenes of university sports (specifically male and upper class), such as punting along the river, and the country houses of the dons. But it becomes clear that, underneath his ostensibly happy marriage, Stephen is dissatisfied, on the verge of a mid-life crisis. He needs to maintain his position of authority as William and Anna’s tutor, whilst remaining a personable individual. He shows interest in his students’ welfare and academic progress, asking the reason behind his protégée’s enrolment in humorous exchanges such as, ‘If you want to be a farmer why are you reading philosophy?’ — ‘To talk to the cows,’ is William’s sardonic response. He but is not prepared to introduce the smitten young man directly to Anna, although he is happy to invite them to his home, albeit with an ulterior motive. As well as the academics vying for Anna’s attentions, there are also tensions between the dons as Charley has TV connections which enhance his academic status; something Stephen aspires to do in order to further his own reputation (Pinter himself has a cameo as a TV executive).
Whereas Stephen has misgivings about his actions, Charley seems to do whatever he likes (even conducting an affair in Stephen’s house without his knowledge), without any thought to ramifications or compromises, especially for his long-suffering wife, despite the inevitability of the outcome that we, the viewer, are made aware of from the opening. Overall, Accident remains a fascinating drama about class, morality and relationships.
Extras include a number of interviews that place the film in context while discussing the background of the production. Of particular interest is a contemporary television interview from 1967 where Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter talk about the development of the film and the cultural issues; together with discussions about their collaborations and the process of constructing the film.