The Maids (1974)

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Released 24-May-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Interviews-Cast-Susannah York
Featurette-Interview With Edie Landau (Executive In Charge Of AFT)
Notes-AFT Cinebill For The Maids
Notes-Article - "Jean Genet And The Maids"
Trailer-AFT Trailer Gallery (10)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 89:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:51) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Christopher Miles
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Glenda Jackson
Susannah York
Vivien Merchant
Mark Burns
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Laurie Johnson

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 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

    Solange (Glenda Jackson) and Claire (Susannah York) are sisters, and servants in the household of Madame (Vivien Merchant). When their mistress is away, they perform role-playing games where one is Madame and the other Claire. These games re-enact the dominance that Madame has over them and allows them to act out their desire to murder her.

    Through a poison pen letter Claire and Solange manage to get Madame's husband incarcerated by the police, and plan to actually go through with the murder.

    Based on a famous true double-murder case that has been fictionalised numerous times - notably in Ruth Rendell's novel which formed the basis for Chabrol's La Ceremonie - Jean Genet's 1947 play takes a step back from the sordid reality and instead concentrates on sordid fantasy. His original stage instructions had the roles of the maids played by males, so this film based on a stage production can be considered to be somewhat inauthentic. It also deals in nothing more than the surface of the events it depicts, with the characters seeming to exist only in the moment and having no more depth than their lines reveal.

    Genet himself had an extraordinary life. Abandoned by his mother and never knowing who his father was, he was raised in a foster home. At an early age he became a homosexual prostitute, then threw up that career for a life of theft. At around the time this play was first produced, he was incarcerated for the tenth time and was up for a life sentence, but a group of intellectuals successfully petitioned the French President for a pardon. After about twenty years of writing plays and novels his output dried up and he spent the last years of his life championing political causes. His works have a very gay sensibility, though perhaps The Maids is less obvious in this respect than, say, The Balcony or Querelle de Brest.

    The acting in this three-hander directed by Christopher Miles is excellent, but the whole does not really add up to much in the way of entertainment value. As a record of these three fine actresses at the peak of their form this is invaluable, but for general viewing this may not be everyone's cup of tea. It is another in the American Film Theatre series, all of which are in the process of being released by Umbrella Entertainment.

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Transfer Quality


    A fine video transfer in comparison to previous releases in the American Film Theatre series. It is in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is close to the original 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    A sharp and clear transfer with a satisfactory level of detail, this disc also benefits from good if not completely accurate colour. The red boa that belongs to Madame seems far too saturated, while flesh tones mostly seem pale in comparison. The transfer is quite bright and contrast levels are good. Shadow detail is not an issue.

    I did not notice much the way of film to video artefacts. It seems there are some minor compression artefacts resulting in low level and chroma noise. Apart from that there are quite a few film artefacts, mainly white flecks. Some telecine wobble is noticeable during the credits.

    The disc has no subtitles. It is RSDL-formatted with the layer change placed at 74:51 during a fade to black.

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


    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    A disappointing audio track, unfortunately. While the dialogue is clear throughout, there is some sibilance. I found this very annoying and it made the film difficult to sit through at times. There is no other distortion and the transfer seems free of hiss.

    I did not notice any problems with audio sync.

    There is a music score by Laurie Johnson which is used sparingly.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Introduction

    As usual with this series, there is a short introduction with some projection equipment and footage from the film.

Menu Animation & Audio

    The main menu has some footage from the film, plus the generic series theme as audio accompaniment.

Interviews-Cast-Susannah York (19:01)

    A good interview with York, who looks not much older than when she made the film. It tends to concentrate on the mechanics of the performance and the differences between the stage and film productions. Interestingly, the play ran only three weeks before filming started, and York has some intelligent comments on how that affected the actors' performances.

Featurette-Interview With Edie Landau (Executive In Charge Of AFT) (22:26)

    The same interview that appears on several of the discs in this series, in which Landau talks generally about the series and its genesis.

Featurette-AFT Cinebill For The Maids

    This is a text version of the programme notes handed out to subscribers to the original series. It contains biographical information about Genet, excerpts from reviews of the play as well as Genet's critical interpreters, and an interview with Glenda Jackson.


    Some production stills.


    A single theatrical poster.

Notes-Article - "Jean Genet And The Maids"

    A useful article about Genet's work and life by Michael Feingold.

Trailer-AFT Trailer Gallery (25:46)

    Ten trailers for other AFT releases.

R4 vs R1

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

    As far as I can tell, the US Region 1 and UK Region 2 releases are identical to the Region 4 in terms of content and transfer quality. I'm not sure I like the colour of the Region 4 cover art, but that's hardly a reason to shop overseas.


    Some good performances in this film, but whether you enjoy the result depends on your response to Genet's style.

    The video quality is not bad.

    The audio suffers from some sibilance.

    Some useful extras, but the repetition of extras from volume to volume in this series reduces their value.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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