This may not be a movie for action fans - but if you are looking for an example of terrific British talent, you need look no further than Harold Pinter's adaptation of his own play for the big screen.

Featuring one of the smallest casts I can remember, The Caretaker is a claustrophobic tale of two brothers - the mentally ill, but well-meaning Aston (Robert Shaw) and the slightly psychotic Mick (Alan Bates) - and their relationship with Davies (Donald Pleasence), a tramp whom Aston saves from a fight and brings home one night, only to find that he is set to become a permanent fixture.

Copy picture

Not a great deal happens in terms of plot development, but this is a masterclass in tension and character exploration. Aston hasn't been at all well. He's out of hospital now, though, after electrotherapy, and spends his time surrounded by broken household goods, tinkering with them ineffectively and dreaming of building a shed in the garden, where he can work undisturbed.

Mick, on the other hand, seems to be much more grounded, deeply suspicious of Davies and worried that he may be taking advantage of his brother's kind nature. But he, too, has a dream - to turn the dilapidated house, where he and Aston live, into a swanky penthouse, an aspiration even less likely to become a reality than the garden shed. Davies, meanwhile, is having something of a crisis, desperately claiming all will be resolved if he can get to Sidcup and pick up his papers... if he could only find a new pair of shoes.

The film is fairly unremitting, with Mick's occasional sadistic outbursts, in an attempt to unsettle Davies, only serving to heighten the tension and increase the sense of futility. It also explores deeper issues, such as familial love and respect for people, no matter how down on their luck. There is a darkly comic element to the screenplay, with Pleasence treading a fine line between humour and seriousness.

This is masterful writing, coupled with clever direction, which manages to make what can be a tricky transition from play to screen easier. The bleak winter weather is used to good advantage and you never sense that the characters are trapped in just one room - although they are trapped within their day-to-day situation.

What the play is about, in terms of imagery, is one of those vexed questions that scholars have debated for years - is Davies a Christ figure? Did Pinter intend to make us think of the id, ego and super ego? I'm not sure that the answer to these questions is as important as the ability to involve us with each of the characters.

Words and silences aren't things you think about in today's action movie/comic book/CGI-effect laden offerings, but they are the lifeblood of The Cartetaker and well worth making the time to consider.

Reviewed on: 10 Jan 2003
Share this with others on...
The Caretaker packshot
Tale of two brothers, three pipe dreams and an unwelcome guest.
Amazon link

Director: Clive Donner

Writer: Harold Pinter

Starring: Alan Bates, Robert Shaw, Donald Pleasence

Year: 1963

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

Festivals:


Search database:


If you like this, try:

Sleuth
A Taste Of Honey