The Servant (1963)

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Released 11-Feb-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 110:39
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (58:54) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Joseph Losey
Elstree Distributors
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Fox
Dirk Bogarde
Sarah Miles
Wendy Craig
Catherine Lacey
Richard Vernon
Ann Firbank
Doris Knox
Patrick Magee
Jill Melford
Alun Owen
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music John Dankworth

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Servant is based on the novel of the same name written by Robin Maugham. Winner of three BAFTAs, this is a story about the struggle between two classes and what could happen if the line between such classes became blurred or ill-defined.

    In this particular case, the man of the house is Tony (James Fox). Tony has recently returned from Africa to take up residence in his new apartment. He quickly decides that he requires a butler or, as he calls it, "a man servant". The job is offered to Barrett (Dirk Bogarde), and the pair seem to hit it off rather nicely. However, there seems to be some reserve on the part of Barrett which is made quite obvious from time to time but not explained until well into the film.

    Frustration builds between Barrett and Tony's girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig), with a constant power struggle occurring at this level. All the while, Tony is trying to maintain a balanced and pleasant household. With Tony's permission, Barrett sends for his sister Vera (Sarah Miles) to come and stay at the house to help with the cleaning and general duties around the house. Barrett rarely seems to find the time, what with having to practically dress the man of the house as well as do every chore for him. I know it's his job and all, but not even reaching out one's arm to answer the phone is taking the whole servant thing too far.

    Tony eventually becomes utterly dependant on Barrett and cannot do the slightest task without him. The ever-increasing levels of alcohol consumed by Tony do not help matters, either. Barrett continues to manipulate his master, causing an ever-increasing downwards spiral to where the distinction between butler and mate becomes blurred. There are also some events that take place that cause more confusion and moral decay within the household.

    Whilst I was watching this movie I never really felt in touch with the characters. The plot was OK but the speed at which it progressed was painfully slow and made this a real chore to sit through. If this movie is worthy of three BAFTAs then all I can say is that movies at the time must have been REALLY bad and downright boring. Sure, there will be some movie-goers out there that will appreciate what the director and writer were trying to achieve here, but, for me, they missed the mark by a considerable margin.

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is clear but any hope of sharp edges is spoilt by some minor edge enhancement. Shadow detail is diminished at times, especially in the backgrounds, but the subjects are always well lit. The worst point would be during the night-time scenes at 45:20. There is some low level noise.

    This is a black and white film which contains a rather broad palette of greys. This gives objects the appropriate shade of grey so that no two objects are ever merged together.

    There were no MPEG artefacts that I noticed. Aliasing is very rare and the only instances where I noticed it were on the curtains in the drawing room. Film artefacts were everywhere, but were usually small in size, and consisted of a combination of scratches, hairs and dust. The white specks were the worst and the most obvious - the black blemishes blended into the film rather well and were not as obtrusive.

    There are no subtitle tracks on this disc - with the amount of dialogue on offer, I guess no one wanted to take on such a mighty task (!).

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed at 58:55. It was easily noticed because it caused an audio drop-out where the music stopped as the layer transition occurred. As the music was present almost continuously throughout the entire feature, it would have been a difficult task to find somewhere that this was not going to be a problem.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    This is an extremely dialogue-heavy feature with very few places where any directional sound is required. The lack of extra channels is therefore not really an issue with this film.

    There is only the one audio track on this DVD and it is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times. Audio sync was not a problem at all with this transfer.

    The musical score by John Dankworth is typical of movies from this era but did tend to have more of a "thriller" type feel which was somewhat disconnected from the movie at times. The music was too loud at times and I had to increase the dialogue level and decrease the volume of the music on numerous occasions. It did becomes rather frustrating after a while to find a pleasant balance between the two.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack was not surround encoded so there was no surround activity.

    Likewise, there was no subwoofer activity from this soundtrack, but nor was there any point where it was needed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There is only one extra available on this disc.


    The menu design is themed around the movie and features a montage made from still images taken from the movie with no audio.

Theatrical Trailer (2:34)

   This is of the same quality as the main feature, being presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The trailer is a mixture of still images and motion clips of the film. All are accompanied by a voice-over of lines from the butler Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) taken from the film's soundtrack.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 and Region 4 versions of this DVD appear to be identically specified. Region 1 reviews of this DVD are very critical of the video transfer. Based on these descriptions, it is possible that we have received a better video transfer, although it is difficult to be sure in the absence of a direct comparison between the two.


    Overall, I found this to be a dull movie and one that will not be getting a repeat viewing in my household. Those who love this style of film may well find the complete opposite.

    The video quality is acceptable for the feature.

    The audio quality was also acceptable but the dialogue and music could have been better balanced for more natural listening.

    The extras are limited to a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Peter Mellor (read my bio)
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersWhatmough Classic Series C31 (Mains); C06 (Centre); M10 (Rears); Magnat Vector Needle Sub25A Active SubWoofer

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