Directed by: Clive Donner
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 100 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 21 October 2002
Cat No: BFIVD537
Screen ratio 1:1.33
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Clive Donner’s film version of Harold Pinter’s groundbreaking play. For reasons unclear, Aston (Robert Shaw) invites a tramp named Davies... Read More
It's hard now to remember a time when Harold Pinter was not considered a national treasure. For those with any doubts for about the fact that he is our greatest living playwright, this brilliantly successful film one of his best plays will be a salutary experience. With its impeccable performances (notably from Donald Pleasance as the wheedling tramp Davies and Robert Shaw as the partially lobotomised Aston who invites him home one night) and Clive Donner's sympathetic, alert direction, this was one of the most successful transitions to film of a difficult stage play. And with Alan Bates in strong support, it's possible to savour that rich and wonderful dialogue anew, particularly in this splendid DVD transfer from BFI
The list of benefactors who ensured this film was made reads like a who’s who of the luminaries of the acting world. When the American backers pulled out at the last moment Burton, Taylor, Coward, Caron, Sellers and others all gave money to ensure filming could begin. We can be thankful to them for a masterly example of a play turned into film and a demonstration of the adaptations required for translation to a different medium.
The action begins when Aston invites the tramp Davies into the house that he shares with his brother. This situation develops into an examination of dreams, delusions and identity, power struggles and unspoken, tender fraternal love, all scripted in Pinter’s distinctive style.
From the opening shot of a flash of Mick’s hand and a glowing cigarette, the direction is assured while the photography, shot in lustrous greys by Nicholas Roeg, reinforces the distance between the three characters and the hermetic worlds they inhabit. All three actors, already known for their superlative stage interpretations of their characters give fine performances. Shaw is the placid, inscrutable Aston, Bates the unpredictable Mick and Pleasence is Davies. His needling, bothersome but fragile bravado as the tramp is a particular tour-de-force.
The Caretaker was shot in six weeks through the freezing winter of 1962, mostly in an attic room in a semi-derelict house in Hackney. The outside scenes that were shot to give a recognisable grounding to the film – scenes of Davies walking and begging in the snow, of the brothers gazing at the pond, reinforce the cold claustrophobia of the attic room that nevertheless serves as sanctuary.
The film features a sparse soundtrack, while the sound effects of feet on stair treads, doors shutting, struck matches and drips from the ceiling into a bucket are allowed their full gravitas.
Both VHS and DVD versions include an illuminating commentary from Michael Billington on getting the play filmed and on changes made by Pinter to the script for the film version, his paring down of dialogue to the barest minimum, and his last-minute addition of lines that would best suit the film medium. Highly recommended.