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The Maids

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Editorial Reviews

Jean Genet, one of the most celebrated creative minds of the 20th century, receives an unbridled, expertly cinematic rendering of his long unseen film based on his perverse play. The Maids volatile mixture of class confrontation, Freudian passion and criminal mischief frames an acid-etched portrait of two sisters whose hatred and desire twist their tortured lives together into a relentless downward spiral of guilt, degradation and freedom at any cost. Glenda Jackson, (A Touch Of Class) and Susannah York (A Man For All Season) play Solange and Claire, Paris maids who tend to cruel socialite Madame's (Vivien Merchant) unending domestic needs. Whenever Madame is away, the sisters obsessively act out a complex role-playing psychodrama of domination and control that feeds their powerful lust for revenge upon the haughty, disdainful mistress they serve. But after falsely denouncing Madame's lover to the police, Solange and Clarie's shared terror of arrest and the unchecked aggression with which they increasingly infuse their "ceremony" threaten to destroy them even as they perch on the threshold of ecstatic release. Director Christopher Miles (A Time For Loving) and legendary cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Julia, Raiders Of the Lost Ark) focus Genet's heady theatricality into a riveting and dynamic cinematic experience. In a world where the lines drawn between mistress, servant, confession, accusation, degradation, redemption, murder and suicide become as fragile as French lace, the fatal truth remains that, "naturally, maids are guilty when madams are innocent."

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Glenda Jackson, Susannah York, Vivien Merchant, Mark Burns
  • Directors: Christopher Miles
  • Writers: Christopher Miles, Robert Enders, Jean Genet
  • Producers: Gordon Scott, Robert Enders
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Kino Lorber films
  • DVD Release Date: April 1, 2003
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00008HCAH
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,959 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Maids" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By L. Shirley on January 8, 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This review refers to the Kino Video DVD edition of The American Film Theatre's production of "The Maids"....

The American Film Theatre's Ely Landau, has brought to film and DVD a series of outstanding and thought provoking plays. One of these, written by Jean Genet, considered by many to be a genuis of the genre, is the very intense and complex study of class distinction,"The Maids". I was so floored by the depth of emotions portrayed by these phenominal actresses, that I viewed this film twice in just the last couple of days. The second time around I appreciated it even more than the first.

Glenda Jackson and Susannah York, are sisters, and both are servants to Vivien Merchant, a demanding socialite. Solange and Claire have grown to hate "Madame",for her degrading treatment of them and neverending belittling of their station in life. Their desire to be the ones in power have them role playing whenever Madame is away.Acting out an intense psychological drama in Madame's bedroom, they take the game to the limits of vengefulness, never actually following through to their desired result..the death of Madame. How far will these tortured souls go to achieve their need for revenge?

These three actresses will take your breath away with the intenseness of their performances. You will hang on every word of the brillant dialouge and get caught up in their every movement. Director Christopher Miles exquistly brings this play to film. One thing that really struck me was the use of mirrors throughout the film. There were times when a reflection in a mirror, startled me into seeing something I hadn't noticed before. And of course, our hearts are always in our throats, thinking that Madame, will arrive home at any minute, during the sister's "games".
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By JOHN A. STEVENS on September 11, 2003
Format: DVD
The productions of the American Film Theatre have long been unavailable for viewing, either commerically or via broadcast. This filmed production of Jean Genet's 'The Maids' is arguably one of the best of the series. Glenda Jackson and Susannah York play sisters Solange and Claire, two maids, who take turns dressing up as their mistress (played by Vivien Merchant) and abusing each other in a parody of the master/slave relationship. Since the source material is a stage play, the plot is dialog driven, and in lesser hands this would have been excruciatingly dull. But Ms. Jackson and Ms. York (and Ms. Merchant) give full-throttle performances, and Christopher Miles' skillful direction never lets the tension lag for a moment as the secrets of the sisters are revealed one by one. If you require an editing cut every four or five seconds, this is not the movie for you. If you want to see three great actresses taking it to the limit, buy this film.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Curt Surly on May 25, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
When I saw this film, I was pathologically attracted to the intense longing haunting each of the three main characters. Both Suzannah York and Glenda Jackson project an exquisite pathos that left me tingling with desire I've rarely experienced in front of a television set. Vivien Merchant glows with knowledge of the simple fact of her power over the lives of her filthy, animalistic subjects. She may be a mere mortal, and not royalty, but she nevertheless treats Solange and Claire with an insidious disdain that drives the film. She is one of the elect and they are...whatever, it isn't important.
Solange and Claire never complete their homocidal pantomimes with one another because they rely too heavily upon the pleasure inherent in the acts themselves. The rituals allow them escape and closeness that is otherwise denied them in their daily occupation as maids for an insensitive, psychologically cunning mistress.
Genet's play was based upon the case of the Papin Sisters, Christine and Lea. These were two incestuous sisters who worked as maids in Le Mans France in the early 1930's. Between them, they butchered both the woman of the house and her daughter. Christina dominated her sister yet cried out for her in prison.
The psychological bond between Christina and Lea led no less a personage than Jacques Lacan to write about them just after the murders.
This film is a bit of a conceit, because the dialogue is far smarter than one would expect from such lowly creatures. Of course, the joy is observing the great care and tremendous fun that each actress has with the words. Indeed, words are poison teasingly administered in a game of protracted strangulation that needs no precise denouement to bring on the flowers of oblivion.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Fred Camfield on February 10, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is a special American Film Theater production of a stageplay. Some outdoor scenes have been added. The setting is in Paris. The time span covered is one day, from early morning to late evening.

A woman lives in an upscale neighborhood in Paris. She has two maids to take care of cleaning and cooking. The maids have developed a habit of role playing while madam is away from home, alternately taking turns to play madam and interact with a maid. They get into her clothes, her makeup, and her jewelry, but must time themselves to have everything back in order before madam returns home.

In their twisted minds, the maids have developed a plot. They send an anonymous letter to the police denouncing the woman's lover and having him arrested. He is dragged away as the play opens. They then plot to give the woman sleeping pills in her tea (heavily sugared). An obvious tragedy as the woman is distraught over the arrest of her lover.

But things go very wrong. A judge releases the man on bail. They cannot get the woman to drink the tea as she flitters about her room. She then rushes out to meet the man, leaving them alone. They are afraid the letter may be traced back to themselves as the woman intends to check the paper and ink.

You must watch carefully to understand what is going on. The maids go into one final episode of role playing that is taken to an ultimate climax. The play has a dark ending as the maids lead themselves into their own destruction. The play is not for everyone. Some people will not like this type plot.
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