BU Film School

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

FT 540 Reading: The Servant

Screenplay info
Written by: Harold Pinter (based on Robin Maugham's novel)
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0057490

Synopsis
Barrett comes to Tony for an interview. Tony's house is mostly empty. Barrett seems the perfect servant. Tony doesn't want "some old woman running around the house telling me what to do."

Susan and Tony are at a restaurant. Tony tells her about his project -- clearing out hundreds of miles in the jungle, building cities, and finding thousands of peasants to live there (classic example of man wanting to dominate environment).

Barrett and Tony go through the house, discussing the decor. "...it makes all the difference to life, sir ... tasteful and elegant surroundings." Renovations start. Barrett checks in on the painters, and acts like he's the one in charge, not Tony.

Susan comes to the house. She's suspicious of Barrett, and not wholly pleased with the decor. She tells Tony that the place needs more variety and color.

Barrett smokes and picks his teeth. First clue we have of his real character.

Tony soaks his feet in salt water, prepared by Barrett.

Tony and Susan are in his house. A song plays: "Leave it alone ... must love without you alone." They kiss. Barrett enters, they start up, he apologizes and leaves. Susan, offended, goes. Tony confronts Barrett, who insists that he did knock.

Tony is sick. Susan comes out of his room, and Barrett is right there outside (which displeases her). Even though Barrett had said flowers weren't good in a sickroom, Susan takes a vase inside anyway. When Barrett goes to move it, she snaps at him, which makes Tony get on her case.

Barrett calls Vera. There's a hint of a relationship between them, and not a pleasant one. Barrett uses b-word with her.

Tony remarks that Barrett enjoys making changes to the house. Barrett says he's removed Susan's frills from the dressing table, since they didn't fit. Scenes of Barrett picking up Vera (silent tension) intercut with scenes of Tony and Susan in restaurant. She criticizes his judgment. Barrett introduces Vera to Tony.

Vera brings breakfast to Tony. He watches her.

Tony and Susan are at Lord and Lady Mountset's. They talk about Tony's jungle project, all revealing their ignorance (South American cowboys = ponchos).

Vera brings breakfast to Tony, who's not wearing pajamas at the time.

Vera sits and watches the approaching Barrett. Her mouth opens with a sexual laugh.

Tony is putting on a jacket, dissatisfied with how it looks. He upbraids Barrett, who informs Tony that his and Vera's mom is ill, so they're taking the night off. Tony's miffed by that, and also by Barrett's suggestion that Vera's skirts are too short.

Tony is at home that night, alone. Vera suddenly appears, saying that she felt unwell, so Barrett had sent her back in a taxi. They have sex.

Tony and Vera sneak in more encounters. Barrett catches Vera coming out of Tony's room.

Susan calls. Tony explains that he's been rather busy.

Susan comes over and orders Barrett about. "The truth is, I don't care what you think." She demands to know what he wants from the house. "I'm the servant, Miss."

Tony and Susan, who'd been at the Mountsets, come back early, catching Barrett and Vera in Tony's room. Barrett reveals that Vera is not his sister, and notes that he and Tony are both in the same boat. Tony throws them both out. He appeals to Susan, but she leaves.

Tony's kitchen is untidy. Tony wanders the streets, ends up in the pub where Barrett is also drinking. Barrett says that Vera left and took all his money, and that she used them both. He asks Tony for another chance.

It's winter. All the curtains and blinds are drawn. The house is littered with beer bottles, pornographic magazines, etc. Tony does the crossword. He yells at Barrett to clean the house. Barrett snipes back.

Tony pulls bed clothes off the sleeping Barrett and yells at him to clean the tea dregs Tony had spilled. "I'm a gentleman's gentleman. And you're no bloody gentleman."

Barrett and Tony play ball on the staircase. They argue about a point. Barrett throws the ball at Tony, who catches it and throws it back, hitting Barrett in the eye. Barrett threatens to leave. "I'm nobody's servant." He gets Tony to pour him brandy.

Tony voices appreciation of Barrett's cooking. Tony hides, Barrett seeks. "I can smell a rat ..." Barrett scares Tony into a faint.

Vera comes to Tony, asking for money. Tony tells her to go to her bookie, which prompts Vera to blame Barrett for what happened. "It was him. He made me." Barrett pushes her out. Barrett gives Tony a special bottle of drink. He says his only ambition is to serve Tony. Tony remarks about the cleaning, "Perhaps we could both make a special effort." Tony acts like a chimp (regressing).

Susan comes. She sees all the changes. She tells Tony that Vera had come to see her. Girls' voices, plus Barrett's, are heard from upstairs. Susan asks Tony what's wrong with her. Tony draws her upstairs. A girl kisses Tony. Barrett says that he and Tony are going to Brazil. Susan kisses Barrett. Tony knocks down glasses, bottles, and smashes the record player, then tells everyone to leave. Barrett and the women, except Susan, start to leave. Barrett yells at Susan, "Eh you! Come on!" Susan comes downstairs, to where Barrett is standing by the front door, and hits him. His fists clench. Then Barrett opens the door and inclines his head. Tony sits in a corner on the landing. Barrett climbs the stairs.

My notes
-- savage. Brings out worst in the two main characters. Horrifying role reversal.
-- importance of setting -- reflects changes in Tony/Barrett relationship.
-- man/woman relationships (particularly Barrett/Vera) not love, mostly another power struggle.

FT 540 notes (from 06/10/03)
-- roles completely change
-- build useless cities in middle of jungle

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