Based on a novel by Sir Oswald Mosley's son, Nicholas, and winner of a Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Accident (1967) is one of Joseph Losey's most penetrating and pessimistic studies of human frailty. He is superbly served by the elliptical eloquence of Harold Pinter's screenplay and the subtle performances of his two favourite British actors, Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker.
Accident is about a middle-aged man in crisis. Contentedly married to Rosalind (Vivien Merchant) but fearing emotional stultification, Stephen (Bogarde) yearns for an affair with the enigmatic Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) which, he realises, could either revitalise or ruin his life. Simultaneously, he is locked in a battle of duelling egos with his student William (Michael York), whose youthful vitality he envies, and with his friend Charley (Baker), whose media prowess and sexual success he covets. Losey and Pinter probe a conflict between intellect and emotion, where an educated elite, who should at least know their own minds, seem incapable of understanding or controlling their inner passions. It is a study of materially comfortable but morally bankrupt people on an emotional collision course, culminating in an accident that will haunt the hero for the rest of his life (as its recollection at the end of the film implies).
Director and writer peel away the surface civilities to uncover a world of thwarted desire and behavioural brutality. Nothing is underlined but images simmer with implication and tension, like Rosalind's pointedly unoccupied chair during the antics round the tennis net (as if she has seen something that has disturbed her) or the shot of Stephen's hand gripping a fence in tantalising proximity to Anna's, Anna perhaps anticipating a move, Stephen wanting but fearing to touch. The sustained Sunday sequence is as precisely plotted in its visual and emotional gradations as the celebrated island search in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (Italy, 1960). A sequence in which the hero seems to be collapsing two separate conversations in his mind - one with a darkly disapproving Rosalind, the other with Charley's forlorn wife, Laura (Ann Firbank), who is assuaging her pain by distractedly watering the garden in the rain - displays a mastery of montage worthy of Alain Resnais. Such artistic aspirations irritated some critics, who dismissed the film as pretentious, much to the chagrin of Bogarde, who insisted (rightly) that artists like Losey, with films like Accident, brought a new lustre to British quality cinema.