Article Title:Victim
Author or Credit:Craig Young (politics columnist)
Published on:29th July 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:841
Text:VICTIM UK, 1961, 1hr 40mins Dir: Basil Dearden Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Sims Forty four years ago, Victim became the first British film to publically address the issue of contemporary gay criminality, which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality under the UK Sexual Offences Act 1967. In 1957, the Wolfenden Committee Report into Prostitution and Homosexuality had haltingly recommended decriminalisation of adult male homosexuality. Victim's director, Michael Relph, set out to create a cinematic argument for limited homosexual law reform. Some contemporary critics were sceptical about the use of the thriller genre to discuss this topical issue, although it was neccessary to package the issues for a popular audience. As Melville Farr, Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999) receives a panicked telephone call from a younger gay man, Jack Barrett. As was often the case before decriminalisation, Farr assumes that Barrett is trying to blackmail him - but Barrett himself is under such harrassment, and commits suicide in a police cell. Disraught, Farr sets out to expose what turns out to be a blackmail ring that preys on most of London's closeted gay social networks, relying on the criminality of male homosexuality to do so. Farr comes out publically, risking ostracism as he prepares to participate in a trial that will bring the blackmailers to justice. Sure, Victim has dated somewhat. As Patrick Higgins observed in his useful history of the period in question, there were few resources available that presented homosexuality as anything other than an "unfortunate mental health condition" that could not be easily reversed. Therefore, gay men should not be locked away as criminals. In packaging the plight of pre-reform gay men for a popular audience, liberties were taken. For example, in Victim, police never set out to 'entrap' gay men in public toilets. Rather, they don't want to enforce criminal penalties against gay men, and are only interested in apprehending the blackmail ring. As Richard Dyer noted in his tribute to the film, Victim was one of a series of left-leaning social problem pictures, which also dealt with contemporary issues like immigration policy, interracial relationships and racist social attitudes. For the first time, it also used 'homosexual' as a term to describe gay men, and several gay actors joined the cast. Bogarde himself was gay, although he never came out publically. However, given his roles in films like The Servant (1963) and Death in Venice (1972), it became an open secret. Victim is a neglected classic of early gay cinema. However dated its attitudes have now become, it was a courageous statement for its time, and began to unravel a repressive antigay criminal justice iron curtain in the United Kingdom, which would gradually percolate through the rest of the Commonwealth, including New Zealand. Filmography: Victim (1961): Public Media Incorporated/ Janus Films: Michael Relph, Producer: Basil Dearden, Director: Screenplay: Janet Green and John McCormick: Length: 100 minutes (black and white). Recommended Reading: Richard Dyer: "Victim: Hegemonic Project" in Richard Dyer (ed) The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation (2nd Edition): London: Routledge: 2002. Patrick Higgins: Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain: London: Fourth Estate: 1996. Stephen Jeffery-Poulter: Peers, Queers and Commons: The Struggle for Gay Law Reform: 1950 to the Present: London: Routledge: 1991. Philip Kemp: "I Wanted Him: Revival-Victim" Sight and Sound: 15:8: (August 2005): 10. Craig Young (politics columnist) - 29th July 2005    
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