Beate (Meg Wynn Owen) is a nanny from Bavaria who has recently arrived in Britain to take a post with Lord Gregory (Derek Jacobi), who owns a stately home which is open to the public, and includes a safari park in its grounds. Gregory is something of an eccentric, having painted the walls of his mansion with pictures of his own design, and although he likes to come across as friendly to his staff, there is a line of familiarity that Beate will not cross. She feels it is the head butler, Tom (Oliver Reed) that she must watch out for, however, because he appears to be more in charge than his Lordship...
And that's pretty much the whole film right there, a variation on Harold Pinter's The Servant which has the novelty of been written by an actual Lord, the Marquess of Bath, and to underline the implication that this story was told by someone who knew what he was talking about, it was filmed at his home as well, Longleat. But take that element away, and if you were none the wiser about its origins then you wouldn't feel any more illuminated unless Lord Bath had taken you on a guided tour himself, and by the end it's only the strength of the performers that has kept you watching.
Not that this is saying much as nobody is really working at full strength here, with Reed especially choosing to adopt a very odd Cockney accent for his character, leaving you wondering whether he's supposed to be funny or not. The fact that Reed's oft-used menace comes into play indicates not, and also that we continually see tiny clips of Tom and the other people in the story apparently setting up a human sacrifice, shot in arresting shades of red. The fact that these clips, as it turns out, are nothing more than symbolic will have you feeling shortchanged by the end.
Not least because director and adapter of the book Andrew Sinclair, still best known for a film version of Under Milk Wood he made before this, opts to emphasise and re-emphasise the notion that it is the servant who is the master of the house, and the master actually under his thumb. There's really not much more to it than that and those viewers keenly studying this plotline will be let down when its resolution might have well been "and then they woke up and it was all a dream!" which explains precisely nothing. Frustrating, then, when there are unanswered questions left hanging in the air, as if you were not supposed to wonder about what you were watching too inquisitively.
The contrast between those above stairs and those below is shown in such sequences as the party where the toffs get steaming drunk for their own amusement, while the servants get high and end up smashing crockery for a giggle. Interestingly, Gregory's live-in girlfriend Carlotta (Anna Gael) opts to stay downstairs, as if she is not really part of the upper classes being a foreigner, but as with so much of this film, potentially fruitful plot threads lead precisely nowhere. You get the impression this means an awful lot to a very few people, so the rest of us non-landed gentry are forced to look on with a shrug as mysteries about who is causing the bruises on the two children are left in confusion. There may be a point about leaving your kids in the hands of your staff being none to helpful in building a familial bond, but there's little here that most will relate to. Music by Brian Gascoigne.