Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
United Kingdom, 1967. Royal Avenue Chelsea. Screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on the novel by Nicholas Mosley. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. Produced by Joseph Losey, Norman Priggen. Music by John Dankworth. Production Design by Carmen Dillon. Costume Design by Beatrice Dawson. Film Editing by Reginald Beck.
None of Harold Pinter’s writing is without that intellectual froideur that he is best known for, but his film scripts are usually jobs for hire that rarely encapsulate the feeling of watching his plays, the dark and brooding theatrical experiences that see the bestial nature of masculine competition smothered beneath few words and generous pauses. Accident might be the first major work in which a Pinter play is put on screen, even though it is a script he wrote based on someone else’s novel (Nicholas Mosley, to be specific).
Dirk Bogarde plays a philosophy professor at Oxford who has taken on an Austrian student with a blue-blood background (Jacqueline Sassard) and has become preoccupied with her. It’s not that he wants to leave his wife (Vivien Merchant, at the time the real-life Mrs. Pinter) and their children, it’s that this young woman sparks a deeper feeling, an instant mid-life crisis of the soul as well as body, and her having another of Bogarde’s students, a young and vigorous Michael York, as her boyfriend makes him feel instantly competitive with the young man.
When his colleague, a flashier version of himself played by Stanley Baker, cheats on his own wife with Sassard, it puts Bogarde deeper into his emotional vortex about who he is and what matters to him. How it plays out is not quite so simple, however, the movie is generous with its moments of silence between carefully pitted and volleyed words, and Joseph Losey, who previously directed Pinter’s script for The Servant, never delivers a shot that doesn’t feel carefully, almost clinically composed, every image from this film could be made into a painting worthy of an art gallery.
That makes it sound hopelessly pretentious but it’s not, this is a hard and challenging film, but it’s made by people who know exactly what they’re doing, and most important is made by a director who very much understands his writer and isn’t just using him as an excuse for empty philosophical grandstanding. It helps that the top-flight cast never misses a step either, particularly Bogarde’s ability to go to such devastating lengths of his crisis while barely registering a twitch of the eyebrow. Features a terrific appearance by Delphine Seyrig in one sequence, and a brief cameo by Alexander Knox.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Grand Jury Prize
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best English-Language Foreign Film