The Hireling 1973 ***

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Stiff-upper lip British drama was rarely stiffer than in the late Alan Bridges’ adaptation of LP Hartley’s novel, a romance between a lady and her chauffeur that’s so repressed that when he finally lurches into self-destructive fury, it’s something of a surprise. Lady Franklin (Sarah Miles) mopes about her countryside pile, distraught over the death of her husband in WWI. Her driver, Steven Ledbetter (Robert Shaw) senses her desolation, and finds a potential soul-mate who he hopes will understand his own depression. Bridges was something of a specialist in country-house ennui, following up with The Return of the Soldier and The Shooting Party, and The Hireling offers extreme sensitivity to issues of class. A Grand Prix winner at Cannes, this neglected film is worth exhuming in the era of Downtown Abbey; it’s careful focus on the broken people behind austere facades comes vibrantly to life when a drunken Ledbetter smashes his car through her ladyship’s front-door.

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