Tuesday 18 July 2017

From the archive: "Victim"

Although it's hardly Bruce LaBruce, Victim was considered shocking back in 1961 for its treatment of (the then-illegal matter of) homosexuality; today, it looks both groundbreaking and fascinatingly awkward, obliging its audience to insinuate and extrapolate that which the film's network of well-spoken gays can only hint at. Dirk Bogarde is the high-flying lawyer whose wings are clipped when his past - and, more specifically, ties to a dead (rent?) boy - embroils him in a plot to blackmail London's queer community. Shot mostly on location by Basil Dearden (The Blue Lamp), this has the gritty, noirish feel of late 50s British urban cinema, but also a strain of drawing-room debate in which Bogarde's "outsider", assuming the role of detective, adopts a more aggressive and antagonistic line of questioning than your average copper, provoked by the social mores of the time. The script - by Janet Green and John McCormick - can feel a little too hung up on notions of "normal" and "abnormal" (Bogarde's wife Sylvia Syms runs a clinic for delinquents) for it to entirely convince nowadays, but you keep spying flickers of all those issues later queer cinema would find itself working through: a strain of virulent self-hatred that Bogarde pushes to the max ("Nature played me a dirty trick") and a genuinely edgy, uncomfortable response to women. Syms has a slightly more complex characterisation than one might expect, but the turncoat's a bitter harridan with a neurotic disgust of pretty much everyone, especially the sad, lonely men classed as criminals at the centre of the piece. 

(April 2000)

Victim returns to selected cinemas this Friday.

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