The Servant (1963 film)

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The Servant
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph Losey
Screenplay byHarold Pinter
Based onThe Servant
1948 novella
by Robin Maugham
Produced by
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byReginald Mills
Music byJohn Dankworth
  • Elstree Distributors
  • Springbok Films
Distributed byWarner-Pathé
Release dates
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£389,276[4]

The Servant is a 1963 British drama film directed by Joseph Losey. It was written by Harold Pinter, who adapted Robin Maugham's 1948 novella. The Servant stars Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig and James Fox.

The first of Pinter's four film collaborations with Losey, The Servant is a tightly constructed film about the psychological relationships among the four central characters and examines issues relating to social class.[5]


Wealthy Londoner Tony, who says he is part of a plan to build cities in Brazil, moves into his new house, and hires Hugo Barrett as his manservant. Barrett appears to take easily to his new job, and he and Tony form a quiet bond, retaining their social roles. Relationships begin shifting, however, when Tony's girlfriend Susan meets Barrett. She is suspicious of Barrett and asks Tony to dismiss him, but he refuses.

To bring his lover, Vera, into his world, Barrett convinces Tony that the house also needs a maid. When Tony finally agrees, Barrett hires Vera on the pretext that she is his sister. Barrett encourages Vera to seduce Tony. Later, when Tony and Susan return early from a vacation, they find Barrett and Vera sleeping together. Believing that the two are siblings, he flies into a rage at Barrett, who then reveals that they are not related and she is his fiancée. He and Vera then make it clear that Tony was sleeping with her, to Susan's dismay. After Tony dismisses them, Susan departs silently.

At this point, Tony has become reliant on Barrett and Vera. He becomes a drunkard, which is exacerbated by Susan's refusal to answer his calls. Eventually, Tony encounters Barrett in a pub, who spins a tale about Vera having made fools of them both. He begs Tony to re-engage him as his manservant, and he agrees.

Gradually the two reverse roles, with Barrett taking more control and Tony retreating into infantilism. Barrett also insinuates Vera back into the house. Susan arrives and attempts to convince Tony to come back to her. She finds him totally dependent on Barrett who keeps him supplied with alcohol and prostitutes. She walks through the sordid scene, and suddenly kisses Barrett, who forcefully returns her attentions. As he grows more brutal, Susan struggles to free herself from his embrace, and Tony, rising from his drunken stupor, attempts to intervene. However, he trips and falls onto the floor, causing all the prostitutes to laugh at him. Tony then has an outburst and Barrett orders everyone to leave. Before departing, Susan slaps Barrett with the jeweled collar of her coat. Barrett is shocked, but quickly recovers and places her coat on her shoulder as she leaves. He then walks upstairs where Vera is waiting for him, passing Tony, who is slumped on the ground and clutching a drink.



The Servant was directed by Joseph Losey, an American director who spent the last part of his career and life in England, after being blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950s. His health was poor during production, causing Bogarde to provide significant assistance with the direction and finishing the film.[6]

The film is based on The Servant, a 1948 Robin Maugham novella. The screenplay, written by Harold Pinter, stripped the plot to a more economical and chilling storyline. Pinter also appeared in the film, as a restaurant patron in one scene with a speaking part.[7]

Writing for the British Film Institute, film critic Nick James noted:

"It was Losey who first showed Robin Maugham's novella The Servant to Bogarde in 1954. Originally separately commissioned by director Michael Anderson, Pinter stripped it of its first-person narrator, its yellow book snobbery, and the arguably anti-Semitic characterisation of Barrett—oiliness, heavy lids—replacing them with an economical language that implied rather than stated the slippage of power relations away from Tony towards Barrett."[5]

Losey's other collaborations with Pinter, Accident and The Go-Between, share a resemblance to The Servant in that these offer the same savage indictment of the waning English class system,[8] a theme which had been rarely addressed in British cinema.


The soundtrack by John Dankworth includes the song "All Gone", sung by his wife Cleo Laine. Her three different renditions of the song provide distinct emotional impacts throughout the film.[7]

Folk guitarist Davy Graham makes a brief cameo playing the song "Rock Me Baby".


The film was shown at the 24th Venice International Film Festival in September 1963. It was also selected to represent Britain at the first New York Film Festival the same month, with Losey returning to the United States for the first time in 10 years to attend the festival.[9][10]

The film opened at London's Warner Theatre on 14 November 1963.[11]

It was re-released in 2013 to mark its 50th anniversary.[7]


Upon release, Variety commended the film for its direction, acting and the "sharp incisive dialog" in Pinter's screenplay, writing: "The Servant is for the most part strong dramatic fare, though the atmosphere and tension is not fully sustained to the end." They also noted "the standout performance by Bogarde, for whom the role of the servant is offbeat casting" and "the noteworthy performance of James Fox, a newcomer with confident flair, who assuredly suggests the indolent young man about town."[9] Penelope Gilliatt of The Observer called it "a triumph" and wrote "the thing that is most exhilarating about the film is that it is has been written by someone who is obviously excited by the cinema and made by someone who obviously respects words".[12] Richard Roud writing in The Guardian and Ann Pacey of the Daily Herald claimed it was "a masterpiece".[11][13]

In 2013, the Los Angeles Times film critic suggested that The Servant was the coldest film ever made, calling it "brilliantly icy".[7] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a rating of 90% and an average rating of 8.2/10 from 49 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Thanks in no small part to stellar work from director Joseph Losey and screenwriter Harold Pinter, The Servant strikes at class divisions with artful precision."[14] On Metacritic, it holds an average rating of 94/100, based on the reviews of nine critics.[15]

The film grossed £238,893 in the United Kingdom and £150,383 overseas for a worldwide total of £389,276.[16]

In 1999, the British Film Institute ranked The Servant as the 22nd-greatest British film of all time.

Home media[edit]

In 2001, The Servant was released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment.[17] In June 2023, a 4K digital restoration of the film was released on Blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection.[18][19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 360
  2. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974, p. 209
  3. ^ Caute, David (1994). Joseph Losey. Oxford University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-19-506410-0.
  4. ^ Caute p 24
  5. ^ a b James, Nick (27 June 2007). "Joseph Losey & Harold Pinter: In Search of PoshLust Times". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 3 August 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2009. From Venetian decadence and British class war to Proustian time games, the films of Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter gave us a new, ambitious, high-culture kind of art film, says Nick James.
  6. ^ Robinson, Eugene S. (4 October 2013). "Dirk Bogarde". OZY. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Turan, Kenneth (29 August 2013). "'The Servant' still delivers a chill". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  8. ^ Losey, Joseph. "The Servant." UK: Studio Canal, 2007
  9. ^ a b Myro. (11 September 1963). "Venice Festival Reviews: The Servant". Variety. p. 22. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  10. ^ "Losey Back In U.S.:, Not Sure Blacklist Is Yet Abolished". Variety. 18 September 1963. p. 1. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  11. ^ a b Pacey, Ann (12 November 1963). "The Servant is Dirk's masterpiece". Daily Herald. p. 4.
  12. ^ Gilliatt, Penelope (17 November 1963). "The masterful Servant". The Observer. p. 27.
  13. ^ Roud, Richard (12 November 1963). "The Servant". The Guardian. p. 7.
  14. ^ "The Servant". Rotten Tomatoes.
  15. ^ The Servant, retrieved 16 September 2021
  16. ^ Caute p 24
  17. ^ Erickson, Glenn (13 December 2001). "DVD Savant Review: The Servant". DVD Talk. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  18. ^ "The Servant (1963)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  19. ^ "Best of Criterion's New Releases: June 2023". Paste. 29 June 2023. Retrieved 20 December 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Billington, Michael. Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 978-0-571-23476-9 (13). Updated 2nd ed. of The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. 1996. London: Faber and Faber, 1997. ISBN 0-571-17103-6 (10). Print.
  • Gale, Steven H. Sharp Cut: Harold Pinter's Screenplays and the Artistic Process. Lexington. Kentucky: The UP of Kentucky, 2003. ISBN 0-8131-2244-9 (10). ISBN 978-0-8131-2244-1 (13). Print.
  • Gale, Steven H., ed. The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany: SUNY P, 2001. ISBN 0-7914-4932-7. ISBN 978-0-7914-4932-5. Print.
  • Sargeant, Amy: The Servant: Palgrave Macmillan/BFI Modern Classics: 2011: ISBN 1-84457-382-6
  • Weedman, Christopher (2019). "A Dark Exilic Vision of 1960s Britain: Gothic Horror and Film Noir Pervading Losey and Pinter's The Servant." Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 58.3, pp. 93–117.

External links[edit]