The Housekeeper (1986)

“I don’t want to be a servant.”

In The Housekeeper (aka Judgment in Stone) Rita Tushingham stars as Eunice Parchman, a middle aged illiterate British woman. The film begins with Eunice living with her horrible father who taunts Eunice for her inability to read and then alternates the taunts with various demands to be catered to. The taunts are designed to make Eunice feel insecure, and over the years she’s built up a paranoid defense mechanism against her illiteracy. She copes with it, and hides the fact she can’t read, but when the subject comes up, Eunice is capable of explosive violence.

After the death of her father, Eunice’s aunt arranges a job for her niece as a housekeeper to an affluent doctor’s family in America. In order to get the job, Eunice’s illiteracy is covered up once again. At first, the American Coverdales are thrilled with Eunice. Doctor Coverdale (Ross Petty) and his second wife Jackie (Shelley Peterson) are served breakfast in bed daily, and the house is run very smoothly. Dr. Coverdale’s daughter Melinda (Jessica Steen) is troubled by Eunice’s status as a servant, but her stepbrother Bobbie (Jonathan Crombie) frankly dislikes Eunice.

Eunice settles in and rapidly becomes addicted to television. Problems with the household increase exponentially when the Coverdales leave on holiday, and Eunice strikes up a relationship with Joan Smith (Jackie Burroughs)–a former prostitute who’s converted to evangelical christianity. Joan is fixated on the Coverdales, and believes they are sinners.

The Housekeeper is based on the gripping Ruth Rendell novel Judgement in Stone and if you haven’t read the novel, then you’ll probably find the film to be a fairly decent thriller. The film, however, misses most of the novel’s psychological complexities–Eunice’s gradual descent into madness, the intricacies of class resentment, and Eunice’s craftiness when it comes to the subject of reading are all given brief treatment here. Instead, the film–which feels like a television film-of-the-week–is very straightforward, and while the novel takes place entirely in England, the film capitalizes on the fact that Eunice is transplanted to America. In the novel, class resentments are paramount, but in the film, this is not as apparent. In the film, at first the Coverdales chalk up some of Eunice’s peculiarities to cultural differences, and her relationship with Joan takes on almost comic elements when Eunice attends an American evangelical church meeting for the first time. Eunice interprets Joan’s performance in church as a cultural difference, and fails to notice that many of Joan’s fellow church goers find Joan appalling and strange. The Housekeeper, directed by Ousama Rawi isn’t a bad little film, but compared to the novel, it’s a disappointment.

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