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Brian G. Hutton
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The Maids is one of the great stage classics of the XX century, and this 1974 version does it full justice. American Film Theatre was an attempt to bring stage to screen; I had previously seen only one of their efforts, Rhinoceros, which was ruined by an attempt to shift the setting from France to America.
The Maids doesn't make that mistake; the setting is ostentatiously, gorgeously French. Glenda Jackson and Susannah York have British accents, but this still maintains the European feel of the piece...and their acting is superb. Their ability to project histrionics at just the right moment brings to life what would otherwise be a stagebound snooze. The exquisite composition of colours and textures in the apartment also makes for compelling viewing.
The story concerns two psychotic and resentful maids who hatch a variety of fantastic plots for killing Madame, their employer. Also, the have a ceremony which involves one of them dressing up as Madame and tormenting the other; it is obvious that there is a vast pool of venom underneath the surface pretence of kindness and consideration shown by Madame.
The dialogue is ritualized and stylized, almost like Shakespearean blank verse - one would expect no less from Jean Genet, who was like Shakespeare in many ways. You have to be willing to like prose-poetry, but it's worth giving it a chance.
I'm convinced that the play was a major influence on Fassbinder's "Petra von Kant"; that movie is reckoned to be a classic, but this one is even better, so more people should check it out.
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