In celebration of Pride month, our Friday Night Film picks for the rest of June will be dedicated to British queer cinema. We kick-off this mini-series with Victim, the boundary-pushing neo-noir from filmmaker Basil Dearden, which acted as a protest against Britain’s draconian laws that forbode homosexuality, a law that stood until 1967.
Set in early 60s London, the film follows closeted gay man Melville Farr. He appears to have it all – the prosperous career, the fancy house, the beautiful wife – but is threatened with the prospect of losing everything when a blackmailer photographs him in his car with the younger Jack Barrett.
While there is no explicit sexual imagery in the film, in the context of the social landscape of the 1960s Victim was a profoundly provocative film. It was the first time the word ‘homosexual’ had ever been used in western cinema, and that alone was enough for the film to be banned in America while British censors stamped it with an X rating.
If that all sounds very much of its time, the lead performance by Dirk Bogarde is still as powerful now as it was when the film was released. Bogarde, himself a closeted homosexual who took on the role knowing the dangers it posed to his own career, portrays Melville with class as he embarks on a determined crusade to identify the blackmailers, but also heartbreaking guilt, as is apparent when he confesses his hidden desires to his adoring wife.