Thursday, 30 May 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Dirk Bogarde in The Servant

Dirk Bogarde did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning a Bafta and placing second for NYFCC, for portraying Barrett in The Servant.

The Servant is an intriguing film about the relationship between a young rich man Tony (James Fox) and his butler although I do not think the ending is the weakest part of the film.

Dirk Bogarde plays the butler and his performance is what makes the film. This is not a simple butler in any respect as we from the first scene where he walks in on his new prospective employer. As he walks in his face is that of a harder man with a bitterness and a definite attitude toward the man and his surroundings. When Tony though notices Barrett there is an immediate change in Barrett as Bogarde portrays Barrett the butler. In just this subtle change in manner we see almost tow different men in this one man. Bogarde sets up this dynamic instantly and with just the way he walks in the room sets the stage for his character's path which is a fascinating one to watch.

As the butler Bogarde turns Barrett into a gentleman's gentleman. His face is that of kindness and consideration. When asked if he enjoys the work he says with a nice smile that he does and Bogarde portrays Barrett's manner is being something that Tony would entirely believe. His posture and his face is that of the servant who loves to do his job in his own meek way. He will come in and out of rooms with his eyes in a most pleasant stare as he observes and takes care of his employer. Everything about Bogarde's performance is that of the type of man who seems perfect for his job, he is always modest and humble.

Bogarde's Barrett is not only that of the butler though and although in his performance he makes it entirely believable that Tony would accept him there is that underlying feeling that there is more to Barrett that it might seem there should be. When he is not in the eyes of Tony or when he is out Bogarde portrays a very different Barrett. This Barrett is almost the opposite of the other man. Bogarde makes him a harsh fellow with unsavory eyes and expression. He is even quite vulgar in his harsh manner that does not mind telling someone exactly what he thinks. He is forceful and rather frank and this Barrett shares almost nothing in common with the other.

The genius of Bogarde's performance is that he does make this all in one man. It does not seem unnatural or unbelievable at any point. He creation of the facade is something special that Bogarde uses as something that shows the nature of Barrett. He is a man putting on just a show when he is the butler who puts it on with his kind face, but the real man is nothing like the kind butler. This dynamic that Bogarde is rather disconcerting if only because he does it so well. It would be one thing if there was not the connection, but Bogarde makes the connection. The unnatural change in the man is made completely natural in Bogarde's portrayal which is what makes it so striking.

As the film proceeds though the true nature of Barrett is revealed to Tony and Bogarde is quite powerful in the way he adjusts his performance when this occurs. There is no holding back in any way when it comes to the less savory qualities of Barrett and any notion of the kind servant is lost. Borgarde is fierce and uncompromising in his portrayal of Barrett finally unleashes his discontent with his employer that he has only bottled up until now. The moment is given the punch it needs due to the extreme nature of the change that Bogarde portrays in Barrett, but as well due to that Bogarde does entirely succeed in showing this as the truth revealed more than anything else.

Interesting enough after he is fired Barrett quickly asks for his job again and this is a short but pivotal scene for Bogarde. Bogarde places the facade again of sorts as that kind face returns as he grovels for his return, but it is not exactly the same man. He is not nearly as well put together in his butler style, and shows it as a mix of trying to put it on through desperation but within that desperation is an inability to really be the butler we saw the beginning. It is an effective scene due to Bogarde as he portrays both Barrett's inability to really maintain his original act that he had created, but as well he shows the movement toward a Barrett who is more truthful pulling back from the extremes he forced himself in at the beginning.

Anything left of the facade is gone by the next scenes which are a strange set of scenes where the relationship between Tony and Barrett quite dramatically. They become more like two bickering buddies rather than master and servant, but more importantly than that Barrett is the dominate buddy. Bogarde's work here is remarkable as he shows the true Barrett who is much more casual than before. He is no longer the nice faced servant or the bitter man filled with repression. He refutes both into just a far more normalized man that absolutely works and makes sense to be the result for Barrett. Bogarde's performance is that of man who just pretty much does not care any more and just might as well get along in his own way.

The whole set up of the servant and the master changing roles could easily have seemed rather forced, but it does not feel this way at all due to Bogarde's performance. What Bogarde shows to be the main reason for this change in relationship is merely his greater force in personality. They both appear as very different versions of their earlier selves both being far more emotionally charged. Bogarde shows this as the strength of Barrett's personality is able to win out but importantly also portrays this personality as something else from the original embittered man. He is able to say anything he wants therefore he can do anything he wants and Barrett makes him in the end have the emotions as before but it a way both much more muted since he can express them whenever he wishes.

This is a great performance by Dirk Bogarde that creates a fascinating character out of the servant. The transition of his character in both his relationship to the master but as well his own personal transition is intriguing in the unique fashion that Borgarde portrays it. This is an amazing characterization by Bogarde, the way Bogarde's reveals the layers of his character as well as rids himself of them is outstanding. He always remains believable in the role despite the long leap his character takes from his entrance to the end. There is not a skipping point but rather a full realization of not only what the servant becomes but as well why he was the way he was from the beginning.


RatedRStar said...

I thought he was good, I think his best performance though is in Victim (1961) as a closeted gay barrister.

Michael Patison said...

I haven't seen this nor have I seen Victim, but he was a great and talented actor. A wonderful personality unfortunately held back by the social norms of old Hollywood.

Michael Patison said...

I think this makes my predictions incorrect as well. I figured only Mifune and Courtenay would get 5s and I still think Mastroianni will get a 4.5 because of the director-centric nature of his film.

Grady Tripp said...

My win of 1963. Amazing performance from start to finish. I really hope he wins this!