When youngster Jack Barrett (Peter McEnery) commits suicide in his prison cell after stealing money from his employers, respected barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), who is secretly gay and once had a dalliance with Barrett, risks his reputation, career and marriage to his loving wife Laura (Sylvia Sims) to track down a group of blackmailers preying on homosexual men.
This was the film that could have ended Dirk Bogarde’s career – but didn’t. In fact, it gave the matinee idol the kudos and respect he so longed for, and made him one of Britain’s most admired actors of his generation as a result.
A forthright drama from director Basil Dearden (best known for such classic fare as The Blue Lamp, also with Bogarde), Victim not only gave the 39-year-old actor his career-best performance, it also shone a very public light on the law of the time which made homosexuality illegal in the UK, and also on the ‘blackmailer’s charter’ that was destroying so many lives in its wake. Banned in the US on its release (the term ‘homosexual’ was outlawed at the time), Victim became a cause célèbre in Britain about attitudes towards homosexuality and a plea for reform (which eventually happened in 1967).
Today, the landmark film still packs a mighty blow as a tense and compelling suspense thriller, and has become a true British cinematic classic thanks to Basil Dearden’s assured direction, Janet Green and John McCormick’s powerful screenplay, and Otto Heller’s noir-esque monochrome cinematography. Supporting Bogarde there’s impressive roster of rich talent, including Sylvia Syms and Dennis Price.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Network Distributing Blu-ray release, part of The British Film collection, features the film in a high definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.
• Dirk Bogarde in Conversation