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Blu-ray Review: The Servant – “A horror movie of gaslighting, class war, narcissistic behaviour, and repressed sexuality”

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Based on the screenplay by playwright Harold Pinter and adapted from Robin Maugham’s short story, 1963’s The Servant is directed by Joseph Losey. The film stars British actor Dirk Bogarde (THE BLUE LAMP, DARLING, ACCIDENT) in the title role, alongside James Fox (A PASSAGE TO INDIA, THE CHASE), Sarah Miles (THE BIG SLEEP, RYAN’S DAUGHTER) and Wendy Craig (THE NANNY, THE MIND BENDERS).

The Servant follows sly and seductive manservant Barrett (Bogarde) as he worms his way in to the affections of foppish aristocrat Tony (Fox). Barrett’s awe-inspiring efficiency cleverly masks his true intentions, ultimately giving way to a suspicious and insidious control where the roles of master and servant are reversed.

The film has had a 4K restoration and StudioCanal sent me a copy of the Blu-ray to check it out.

First of all the film looks absolutely stunning. The work of cinematographer Douglas Slocombe is superb and the restoration makes everything pop. You see every minute expression on the principal players and every piece of mise-en-scene can be clearly seen in the townhouse that makes up the primary location of the film

Bong Joon Ho has said that this was one of the films that influenced his brilliant film, Parasite, and that is quite obvious once pointed out. Both deal with a wealthy person bringing in a person from a lower class who then bring in people they know to help out and eventually cause problems for their employer. Both films are wildly different in how they do it, but it is a good starting point for you if you’re considering watching The Servant.

For me, The Servant is one of those films I used to read about in movie magazines when I was a teenager and it always intrigued me. I had only really known Dirk Bogarde for his comedy roles in the Doctor On Call movies. I always enjoyed them and could not picture Bogarde in the films such as The Night Porter, The Damned, Death In Venice and The Servant. When I eventually saw them I appreciated the craftwork in their construction and the acting skills on show, but they did not become films I had to see again and again. Admittedly I was probably much too young when I saw them to truly appreciate everything going on with regards the subtext.

Now I am very much older (a fact that still surprises me on occasion when I look in the mirror) and so was quite happy to re-watch this new restoration of The Servant. I was not disappointed. As I have already said, it does look gorgeous and the film did hit a lot better for me this time round. The sense of claustrophobia that builds throughout is just superb. The design of the house itself to the composition of the scenes and the way Barrett is always there really show the physical stress the characters are under. Add in the brilliant acting by the four main players, in particular Bogarde, and it is a delight for any cinephile.

The way Bogarde shows Barrett’s disdain with a slight change to his mouth when Tony looks away just draws you in. As the power dynamic begins to change the claustrophobic environment, distorting mirrors and jazz-styled soundtrack John Dankworth makes you feel a little disorientated and uneasy. You realise that this is no simple British drama, this is instead a horror movie of gaslighting, class war, narcissistic behaviour, and repressed sexuality that will have you squirming in your seat.

Part of you wants Tony to get a good dose of reality, even though you know he was originally going to build homes for people in third world countries, but that strange sense of inevitability that kicks in as Tony’s personality becomes broken and Barrett is in the ascendant makes a chill run down your spine. You realise Wendy Craig’s Susan was correct with her initial instinct about Barrett, but her concerns were always dismissed.

The film is a classic and even more so now it has been restored and it is an incredible piece of cinema. However, it is one of those films that I would not be able to watch too often simply due to the sense of unease it brings (similar to Requiem For A Dream), but that is just me. It is well worth having in your collection.

The Blu-ray comes with some brilliant interviews with the surviving cast along with a video essay with Matthew Sweet and Phuong Le and a new location featurette with Adam Scovell. There is also a 64-page booklet with essays from Peter Bradshaw & Anna Smith, but my screener disc did not come with that.

THE SERVANT opens in cinemas on September 10 and on 4K UHD Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on September 20.

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