WORLD CINEMA: Victim (1961)

Pride celebrations continue here at the Garden and this month’s WORLD CINEMA is all about Victim (1961, dir. Basil Dearden), the iconic British thriller highly believed to be partly responsible for the changes in the illegalization of homosexuality in the UK (the Sexual Offences Act of 1967) and the general attitudes of the British public regarding the subject.

Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) is a successful barrister who takes on the case of a young man, Jack Barrett (Peter McEnery), after he kills himself as a result of being blackmailed for being gay. When the blackmail ring proves to be much bigger than initially thought, Mel’s own private life and involvement with Jack come to light…

Let’s just get a few things out of the way first: Sir Dirk Bogarde was gay in real life and it’s obviously not a surprise that this was an extremely personal project for him and perhaps his greatest performance. As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of the ambigious expression ‘ahead of its time’ but in this case, it is totally deserved. In 1961, homosexuality was still a crime in the United Kingdom and for screenwriters Janet Green and John McCormick to write such a brave, bold and frankly badass story took guts. The subtle but clear interactions between the several characters leave no room for error: for instance, at around 30 minutes, the two police officers who just arrested Jack talk about the gays and express their very different opinions on the matter, with an attitude that is both refreshing and quite jarring for a film made in 1961. Not to mention that Melville’s now legendary confession to Laura (Sylvia Syms), his wife (‘I wanted him!’) is still incredible to watch. Victim may seem tame by today’s standards, but its impact on British culture cannot be overstated.

4 thoughts on “WORLD CINEMA: Victim (1961)

  1. Mike Noonan

    Thanks for recommending it Carol. Definitely worth watching. Dirk Bogarde gives another excellent and subtle performance. It makes me proud of cinema that it was instrumental in overturning that barbaric law.

    Liked by 1 person

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