The Hireling (1973)

the hireling

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His love isn’t reciprocated.

Based on the L.P. Hartley novel the film examines the unusual relationship between a rich English widow named Lady Franklin (Sarah Miles) and her chauffeur Steven Ledbetter (Robert Shaw). The setting is just after the First World War and Lady Franklin has suffered a nervous breakdown after the untimely death of her husband. Steven drives her from place-to-place and helps her out of her depression while also forming a strong attachment to her. Once she recuperates she no longer calls upon his services as much, which hurts him. She then forms a relationship with the much younger Hugh Cantrip (Peter Egan). His personality is the complete opposite of Steven’s and when Steven finds out that Hugh is still seeing another woman on the side it angers him. When he goes to Lady Franklin to inform her of this as well as profess his love for her things do not go well and soon spirals out-of-control.

The film is exquisitely photographed by director Alan Bridges with a haunting score by Marc Wilkinson that is excellent. The period atmosphere is perfect and the slow pace not only reflects that era, but the book to which it is based. Some may be put off by the pace as it is for the most part quite talky although the last half-hour has more action and final showdown is quite intense. The element I really liked about the film are the brief cutaways showing people listening in to other’s conversations and people always being careful what they say and great concern with always playing their ‘proper role’ in society. It really helps build a cloistered feeling for the viewer and gives them a better understanding to the meltdown that occurs at the end.

Miles gives another great performance and she essentially plays two characters here with the fragile, wide-eyed woman at the beginning and the more confident, emotionally distant person that she turns into at the end. Shaw is excellent as always. It is almost amazing to see how someone with such a strong personality as his could get hidden underneath the rather bland and proper character that he portrays at the beginning, but he comes through full-force at the end, which is chilling and terrifying.

The film makes some great statements about the inequities of a rigid social caste system as well as the unrealistic, rigid demands that were placed on people especially in past eras that did not completely take into account the human being underneath or their natural emotions. It is also a great testament to the loneliness of unrequited love, which is sadly a perennial element of the human experience. Although the film stays faithful to the novel the ending has been changed, which may or may not go over well with some viewers.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2)

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