Victim review – groundbreaking gay thriller given timely rerelease
5 / 5 stars5 out of 5 stars.
Dirk Bogarde’s elegant, sensitive portrayal of a man coming to terms with being gay played a vital role in the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality
Thu 20 Jul 2017 15.30 BSTLast modified on Mon 3 Dec 2018 15.20 GMT
Basil Dearden’s icily brilliant mystery thriller Victim from 1961 is now rereleased in cinemas, linked to the Gross Indecency season at BFI Southbank, London. Dirk Bogarde is the barrister Melville Farr, haunted by his (unconsummated) gay desires – this in an era when gay sex was illegal – and threatened by a sinister blackmail ring. The other blackmail victims include a stage star played by Dennis Price, who was himself a gay man in that shabby, hypocritical age. In the bankruptcy court, Price claimed his money worries stemmed from gambling, though paying off blackmailers was another possible explanation.
Modern LGBT audiences may not care for this film’s title, or its occasional bien-pensant air of straight liberal concern for a psycho-medical “problem”. But the movie played a vital part in the decriminalisation that came with the in 1967.
Bogarde is gaunt, sensitive, elegant. His heartbreakingly trusting young wife Laura is played by Sylvia Sims: the film leaves it to us to notice that she has a job teaching disadvantaged children, but that they have no children of their own. Dearden’s film conjures up the skin-crawlingly nasty and whispery world of blackmail in the tatty streets of London’s West End. The film has hints of and , and I have long had the theory that the elliptical language of gay pickups in an age of state-sanctioned homophobia is something that inspired ’s language of enigmatic menace.
The drum-tight drama has a couple of smart twists: its co-writer is Janet Green, who scripted Midnight Lace. Bogarde has a kind of darkly troubled poise that is utterly of its time. I wonder if Hugh Grant might study it as he prepares to play Jeremy Thorpe in Stephen Frears’ forthcoming TV play A Very English Scandal.