VICTIM took a brave and lonely stand against legally and socially approved victimization—of an entire segment of society—with this excellent 1961 suspense drama, directed by Basil Dearden (The League Of Gentlemen, Khartoum), written by the wife/husband team of Janet Green & John McCormick (Sapphire, 7 Women), starring Dirk Bogarde. All involved took not just a stand but a gamble on the project, with Bogarde’s risk the most prominent. A potential career killer, it turned his in a new direction that provided him with some of his best performances, including the lead role here.
“Well it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.”
London barrister ‘Melville Farr’ (Bogarde) has a successful practice and happy marriage; he’s well placed to become a judge. The near-certainty of all those elements is shaken into a state of jeopardy that forces agonizing decisions and delayed moments of truth. One of the targets of a ring that blackmails homosexuals kills himself. Farr had a hidden relationship with him. Next on the hit list, rather than cave to the criminals he makes the painful ethical decision to uncover them, even though he will then face public exposure and ruin, and likely destroy his private life.
Homosexual acts were punishable by law in Britain until 1967, and blackmail was common. Then 39, Bogarde was one of the most popular matinee idols in England, and he was closeted gay. So were several of the supporting players. Naturally, controversy arose with censors and the censorious, and when the movie, done on a tight budget of £153,756 (in 2022 about £3,058,520) made it to the States a year later, it created further official pushback and squawks of doom, and made but $400,000. But it’s success in Britain helped galvanize those in favor of change, and the quietly powerful film has been come to be recognized and valued as a trailblazer, presented in a non-sensational way, superbly acted by all concerned.
Bogarde in 1988: ” It was the wisest decision I ever made in my cinematic life. It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age, to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three.”
Philip Green provides a dramatic music score. With Sylvia Sims, Dennis Price, Peter McEnery, Nigel Stock, Darren Nesbitt, Donald Churchill, Hilton Edwards. 96 minutes.