Monday, 18 May 2015


"This new film may shock my nice young doctor public, but you can't go on making films just to please your fans. You can't leave all the adult films to the French, Italian and Swedes"[1]

In 1960 nearly all cases of blackmail in England and Wales were related to the victim being homosexual, regarded by some sections of the public as a disease. Back then it was still against the law, that was until the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which implemented the recommendations of the 1957 Wolfenden report which in turn recommended that homosexual behaviour between two consenting adults, over 21 and in private, should no longer be a criminal offence. These changes were brought about because of some very prominent cases involving well-known men!
Sylvia Syms as Farr's wife. 
Directed by Basil Dearden and produced by Michael Relph, Victim (1961) was another of the talented filmmaking pair’s ‘social problem’ movies that dealt with subjects that many other filmmakers avoided. Films like A Place to Go (1963), Violent Playground (1958) both dealt with the problems confronting youth culture and of cause Sapphire (1959) which tackled race relations which was scripted by Janet Green who also scripted Victim having became a keen supporter of homosexual reform.
The police question Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) 
Dirk Bogarde was suspected to be homosexual because he lived in the same house as his business manager Anthony Forwood, but obviously the Rank Organisation that Bogarde had been contracted to for fourteen years was not happy that one of their top stars was rumoured to be in a relationship with another man and arranged for him to be seen with attractive and desirable young starlets. So when Bogarde left Rank and accepted the role of the barrister Melville Farr a successful man with a loving wife who had a secret passion and risks his career and marriage to break an extortion racket when his young friend, a wages clerk on a building site, commits suicide rather than implicate him in a blackmail scam.  It was a very brave move on his part that could of affected his career; the adulation from his female fans and worse could further have fuelled the rumours about his sexuality.
Farr discovers the Barrett was not the only blackmail victim. 
Although this was undoubtedly a controversial film for its time, and was initially banned in the USA for being too explicit, it is now seen as one of Bogarde’s most intelligent and tactfully performances of his career to date and although loosing some of his young fan base, not due, it was alleged, to the fact that he played a gay man but more to do with the fact that he played a character his own age, forty and greying, it enhanced his reputation and Bogarde admitted ‘that it was the wisest decision he ever made in his cinematic life’[2]. His next big break, which would place him at the very top of the league of British actors, came three years later in the first of four films he made with Joseph Losey The Servant in 1963.
Mavis Villiers plays Madge, a woman with knowledge of who drinks at her favourite watering hole.

It is notable that Victim was the first English language film to use the word "homosexual" and many believe that it played a significant role in both liberalising attitudes and helping to change the archaic laws dealing with same sex relationships, proving my theory that filmmaking in the right hands can change things for the better.

[1] Dirk Bogarde quoted by Cecil Wilson Daily Mail.
[2] Snakes and Ladders. Dirk Bogarde.

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