David Thomson is the author of The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies—and What They Have Done to Us; Have You Seen . . . ? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films; and The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig,
“Don’t be fooled . . . by PBS prestigerie like Upstairs Downstairs,” critic Raymond Durgnat wrote in 1977 (and decades later, we would add Downton Abbey to the comparison); “they’re nostalgic recuperations of all the tensions plotted by Harold Pinter and Joseph Losey in this, their seminal study of master-servant relationships. How and why does the rich young man with aristocratic pretensions (James Fox) fall under the sway of the creepy butler (Dirk Bogarde) and his sluttish sister (Sarah Miles)? The two auteurs begin with Robin Maugham’s short sharp novel about the nanny complex in the British upper classes and its transsexual extension through military community onto lower-class males. They expand it into a study of a whole culture’s loss of purpose and therefore self-assurance, and it becomes all the more monstrous and compelling for being heterosexualized (or rather desexualized).”