WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Rereleased for its 50th anniversary this year, The Servant’s portrait of master and servant still has the power to make audiences squirm.
By Eugene S. Robinson
The Servant, a 1963 dramatic thriller based on the 1948 book by Robin Maugham, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, may be “the coldest film ever made.” Directed by the blacklisted American Joseph Losey, this cinematic classic does not exist without Sir Dirk Bogarde. Not only because Bogarde helped the ailing Losey finish directing the movie, but because he is the spiritual center of a film about shifting conceptions of class, sex and gender. It’s a premise that could only be grandly delivered by someone who shared those shifts. An intelligence officer during World War II, Bogarde also managed a certain kind of fluid sexuality that later influenced everyone from the new romantics (Brit bands Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox) to hip-hop’s foppish Slick Rick.
The film was a turn from Bogarde’s pro forma films to the more kink-leaning work of his latter years, such as “The Night Porter” and “Death in Venice.”
Bogarde was prolific: He penned six novels and nine works of nonfiction, and appeared in more than 60 films. (Plus there were roads not taken: he turned Madonna down for a role in her “Justify My Love” video.) The Servant marked a turn from his earlier pro forma films to the more kink-leaning work of his latter years, such as The Night Porter and Death in Venice. Bogarde’s scene with James Fox below shows him at full bloom: lazy, petulant, manipulative and utterly fearless. And well worth watching. “Bogarde’s face is a study in reptilian cool,” says culture critic Cintra Wilson. “He can eat revenge cold; he is insouciant and unfazed during the most brutal personal confrontations – he lets the audience do the cringing for him.”
Damned straight. And we enjoy every minute of it.