Thursday, 29 May 2014

Victim (1961)

Victim is a groundbreaking early 60s film about homosexuality which, as it was still illegal at the time, was conducted very much in secret and behind closed doors. 

The plot is part British noir and part character study and concerns the blackmailing of closeted gays, several of whom are high profile and/or famous. One of whom is Melville Farr played by Dirk Bogarde, a smooth and accomplished barrister about to take silk ie become Queen's Counsel. This appointment, along with his career in general and his beautiful young wife played by Sylvia Syms, is at risk if he is outed in society and yet he takes it upon himself to investigate and stand up to the anonymous blackmailers and highlight the unfairness in the law he practices.   

Bogarde plays the part with a well contained anger and sense of injustice that not only makes his 'crusade' utterly believable and empathetic but also gives us a great sense of his character and why he is a barrister; this is a man who has utter righteous contempt for social injustice but who approaches it as calmly as possible as befits his profession. Nevertheless, it is utterly obvious through the talented performance that Bogarde's character feels a resentment deep within him not just for the way society views his sexual preference but also for the fact that nature has given him this preference  in the first place; its alluded that he may never have given into his passion - he certainly never had sex with 'Boy' Barrett, the young man whose suicide brings the blackmail operation to his attention - and he's quick to lash out, literally in one key and surprising scene, when he feels he is being insulted or criticised for how he is.

This was the film that marked a turning point for Bogarde the Rank matinee idol. His agent warned him that accepting the role in Victim would end his career. Thankfully it did not, it opened up a new and more mature and intelligent direction entirely and one that proved to be far more rewarding, and offered more longevity, than the more conventional male lead roles he had originally become famous for.

Basil Deardon, perhaps now one of the UK's most underrated directors, provides Victim with masterful direction and, alongside cinematographer Otto Heller, captures the early 60s London beautifully and tellingly; in focusing the action firmly on very real streets, large and fading public houses, court rooms, car dealerships, barbershops and motorway caffs full of steaming tea urns and truckers polishing off all day breakfasts, the secret scene is shown to be the same one that occurs alongside the 'normal' everyday life of the heterosexual, breaking any taboos and misconstrued ideas borne of ignorance perfectly.

It's an eye opening snapshot to a less enlightened time, one that is almost impossible to contemplate was the case nowadays. A solid message film, it is undeniably a very brave one, with enlightening and surprising candour given the time the film was made and the fact that it was dealing sympathetically with something that was still considered a crime. Kudos then to all involved that Victim's message was told and told so very well to boot.

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