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cast: Glenda Jackson, Susannah York, Vivien Merchant, and Mark Burns

director: Christopher Miles

90 minutes (12) 1974 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Fremantle inD DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
Unlike many of the plays adapted for screen under the auspices of the American Film Theatre, Jean Genet's The Maids has a small cast. Naturally a film that takes place in one room, as this does, has a claustrophobic feel to it, but this seems appropriate under the circumstances: the play is about people who are trapped. This theme is central to Genet's work, which includes semi-autobiographical novels about his formative years in prisons and other repressive institutions. In The Maids, these concerns are articulated through two sisters (Susannah York and Glenda Jackson), in the service of a grand dame (Vivien Merchant). While Merchant is absent, York and Jackson act out a ritualised power relationship, alternating the roles of mistress and servant.

But this is no Depeche Mode video, and those expecting whips, shiny boots of leather or any other sadomasochistic trappings will be in for a disappointment. The film's main entertainment value lies in watching three grand dames of the English stage chewing the ornate scenery with considerable gusto. But while a theatrical production can rely on the effects of Genet's gaudy, sensuous poetic prose delivered from the honeyed lips of Shakespearian actresses, one expects more from a film. It could for example provide an opportunity to give visual substance to Genet's language. What emerges from this film is a disappointingly literal representation of the action, with a few token exterior scenes about a police raid and the resulting incarceration of someone who turns out to be Merchant's husband. While the play is meant to convey a feeling of oppressive enclosure, this film simply feels depressingly stagey.

The DVD extras include a pair of interviews, including one with Susannah York. Hers is a little gushing and 'luvvie', but the other interview with an AFT executive producer is more interesting, providing an overview of the AFT's work. This leads nicely into the trailer gallery, which provides tantalising glimpses of other AFT releases including John Osborne's Luther, Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, and Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.

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