Chiswick In Film: The Servant
Images above: James Fox, Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles in The Servant (1963); STUDIOCANAL
1963 British drama film directed by Joseph Losey, written by Harold Pinter, starring Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles
The Servant was scripted by Harold Pinter (1947 – 2008), one of Britain’s greatest modern dramatists and a former Chiswick resident. The film was his first collaboration with American theatre and film director Joesph Losey, and his first forray into screenwriting.
Pinter was already established as a playwright when he wrote the screenplay for The Servant. He had written his first play The Room, a student production, in 1957. His second play The Birthday Party had been put on at the Lyric, Hammersmith in 1958.
The Dumb Waiter had been performed at the Hampstead Theatre Club in 1960 and The Caretaker, the play which really established Pinter’s theatrical reputation, had been performed first at the Arts Theatre Club, then transferred to the Duchess Theatre, receiving an Evening Standard Award for the best play in 1960. A Night Out had also been broadcast in 1960 on radio, on the BBC’s Third Programme.
By the time he wrote the screenplay for The Servant, the first of four film collaborations with Losey, he was well on his way to becoming a celebrity.
Book tickets to The Servant: chiswickcinema.co.uk/The Servant
Images above: Dirk Bogarde and James Fox; STUDIOCANAL
The film sees the aristocratic Tony move to London and hire manservant Hugo Barrett. Barrett seems to be a loyal and competent employee, but Tony’s girlfriend Susan does not like him and asks Tony to send him away, which he refuses to do. Barrett convinces Tony the house also needs a maid, so he can introduce his lover Vera, passing her off as his sister.
The relationships between the characters cause the deterioration of Tony and Susan’s relationship and Tony’s moral and mental decline. Some of the film’s icy scenes as their relationship becomes strained, were shot at Chiswick House and Gardens.
Image above: One of the scenes shot at Chiswick House – photograph Chiswick House Trust
Dirk Bogarde plays the lead role of the manservant; Sarah Miles his girlfriend Vera; James Fox is Tony, Wendy Craig his girlfriend Susan. Harold Pinter also appears in the film as ‘Society man (restaurant)’.
Dirk Bogarde was by this time a big star; for Sarah Miles this was her third film. James Fox and Wendy Craig were both relative newcomers; this was the first major film part for Fox and the first film role for Craig.
Images above: Dirk Bogarde and James Fox; Sarah Miles and James Fox; STUDIOCANAL
The Servant was nominated for a host of awards and won three BAFTAs. Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter were all nominated. Dirk Bogarde won Best Actor; James Fox won Most Promising Newcomer; Douglas Slocombe won Best Cinematography.
Harold Pinter won the Best Screenplay award from the New York Critics Circle and Best Dramatic Screenplay from the Writers Guild of Great Britain.
The film is ranked number 22 in the BFI’s list of Top 100 British films.
Pinter – Losey partnership
Pinter and Losey became good friends and went on to make two more films together: Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1971). All three films dealt with the politics of class and sexuality in England at the end of the 19th century. Losey died before the financing for their last project together, an adaptation of A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust was in place, so it was never filmed.
Pinter continued to develop his career as a playwright and screenwriter, writing for theatre, film, radio and television. He lived in Chiswick, in a first floor flat at 373 Chiswick High Rd, in the 1950s and ’60s.
Chiswick In Film festival 2022
The Servant was screened as part of the first Chiswick In Film festival in October 2022, followed by a Q&A with art critic and broadcaster Phillip Bergson and critic and author of Harold Pinter’s biography Michael Billington.
Sarah Miles made a surprise guest appearance and told hilarious anecdotes about the making of that film and of some of her other films.
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