One night, on the road outside his country house, Oxford academic Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) heard a terrible commotion outside and walked out to see what had happened, only to find a car crashed by the verge. To his horror, he realised the car belonged to one of his favourite students, William (Michael York), and when he investigates closer he sees the young man is lying dead beside his girlfriend Anna (Jacqueline Sassard), who is just coming round after being knocked unconscious in the collision. Stephen pulls her out, very upset that she stood on William's inert face in the process, and escorts her the short distance to the house where they have to work out what to say to the police...
After the international success of The Servant, the movie world was keen to see what the next collaboration between director Joseph Losey and writer Harold Pinter would be, and the critical consensus was that they had matched, even surpassed the earlier film with Accident, an adaptation of Nicholas Mosley's novel that they had deliberately translated to the screen in as an austere fashion as possible, leaving the audience to join the emotional dots between the characters. Naturally, this left a whole bunch of differing opinions as to what they were really thinking and what we were not being told about them, with some drawing the conclusion that if the filmmakers were not telling, then should the rest of us bother?
Accident came along at the end of the revolution in British screen drama that told us the lives of the working classes had as much validity for examination as the more traditional middle and upper classes who had taken up much of the space in so-called "serious" efforts. The effect this had was the lower down the social scale the subjects were, the more genuine they were perceived as, a way of thinking that persists to this day when drama about posh people is considered far too exclusive for the masses unless it’s a period piece carefully evoking a different era, so Losey and Pinter were quite brave in adapting the lives of the rarefied milieu of Oxford University aesthetes when even at the time something more rebellious was in the air.
Not long after, Malcolm McDowell seemed to sum up the landscape considerably better by gunning down a bunch of academics at the end of Lindsay Anderson’s If.... which left Accident coming across as stuffy at worst, obscure at best, yet if you thought the inner lives of the more repressed individuals at the higher strata of society were as worth examining as the more uninhibited lower down, then here was a film for you. Everyone in this, but Stephen in particular, may be swan-like on the surface, but their legs were paddling away for all they were worth to sustain that serene countenance. Every so often Losey allowed his camera to catch a scene, a shot, of that desperation showing through the façade, be it a slip in the conversation, one character breaking down in private, or a whole sequence illustrating an affair.
One side effect of all these folks keeping it all in was that you could grow frustrated with them, as if they needed a real shake to say what they meant seeing as how that would have cleared the air and not necessitated all those secrets and lies that make their lives so difficult to cope with. That sense of troubled souls whose anguish we can just about perceive could also beg the question, well, what do you have to worry about? You either have a solid family, or a steady, lucrative job, or friends you can talk to, you live in a well-to-do part of the country, so what exactly is the big problem? Yet that was perhaps the point, you could have it all and it just wouldn’t be enough, you’d spent so much time with privilege that you started to get used to it, and when that occurred you would want more than what you had, or even something different to stop the monotony. Bogarde was best at eliciting the dread of realising the settled existence was not going to suffice, though Stanley Baker, who also falls under the spell of the glacial Anna, was hauntingly pathetic by the end. Maybe they all were. Music by Johnny Dankworth.
Cerebral, at times pretentious, American director, from the theatre. His American career (The Boy with Green Hair, a remake of M, The Prowler) was short-lived due to the Hollywood anti-Communist blacklist, and Losey escaped to Britain.