Today and tomorrow at The Belcourt, you still have two chances to see the 50th anniversary restoration of The Servant, the Harold Pinter-scripted drama that's getting a new look in theaters across the country. In his "Deep Focus" column on Country Life earlier this year, James Cathcart called it "the crown jewel of [Pinter's] trifecta of British-produced collaborations (including Accident and The Go-Between, discounting an uncredited contribution to Modesty Blaise) with American exile Joseph Losey":
"[His] films with Losey ... maintain a distinctly Pinterian obsession with sadistic mind games and power plays, pitting one class of human against another. In the case of The Servant, it’s James Fox, in his first leading role, versus Dirk Bogarde, who would later become the embodiment of psychosexual solicitude by way of films like The Damned, The Night Porter, and Despair. Several years before those roles turned Bogarde into an emblem of the craven sexuality of the Third Reich, it was The Servant that put an end to his innocuous persona as the matinee idol from such comparatively tame Rank Organization productions as 1954’s Doctor in the House.
When well-to-do Londoner Tony (Fox) takes on the seemingly subordinate Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) as his manservant, the quietly observed partition between master and minion goes undisturbed until the introduction of Tony’s snide upper-crust lover, Susan (Wendy Craig). When she disrupts Barrett’s harmonious servitude, an act of single-household class warfare is set into motion. When Barrett arranges for the employment of his professed sister Vera (Sarah Miles) as the household maid, it’s soon revealed that there’s more to their relationship than meets the eye, and she becomes a willing pawn in Barrett’s campaign of psychological terrorism against Tony and Susan’s status quo.
Nearly every line or action in the film is augmented with double meaning — each of Tony and Barrett’s interactions underlines their inequities and seethes with homoerotic implication. A boyish round of hide and seek becomes a confrontational exercise in queer paranoia. Themes of decayed privilege and suppressed desire are reinforced further through the masterful production design of Richard Macdonald, a close creative accomplice of Losey’s who spent the first decade of his career at his side.