The living arrangement between a listless bachelor and his servant becomes increasingly menacing in director Joseph Losey’s 1963 chamber drama.
When an upper-class bachelor moves into a new home, he hires a manservant, Barrett (Dirk Bogarde), to tend to his housekeeping needs. At first, Barrett takes to his subservient role with gusto, soon becoming indispensable. However, he soon finds an adversary in his master’s new girlfriend who from the outset just doesn’t like the cut of his jib. Soon, a series of sly manipulations and minute power plays begin to destabilise the power dynamics of the whole house.
And what a house! With interiors filmed in-studio, The Servant is a masterclass in cinematography and set design. The claustrophobic bachelor pad is a character unto itself, with mirrors that distort, bannisters that imprison and bookcases that conceal other rooms. It’s almost as if characters emerge and retreat back into the closet.
Chamber thriller. Bourgeois horror. Homoerotic fantasy. With its sly working-class insurgency, Joseph Losey’s multi-faceted domestic drama holds a light to the fragility of the British class structure at a time when more working-class stories were coming to the fore.
The Servant premiered at the 24th Venice International Film Festival.