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Victim DVD cover
Directed by Basil Dearden
Produced by Michael Relph
Written by Janet Green,
John McCormick
Starring Dirk Bogarde,
Dennis Price,
Sylvia Syms
Cinematography Otto Heller, BSC
Distributed by Rank
Release date(s) August 1961
Running time 96 min.
Language English

Victim is a 1961 British film directed by Basil Dearden, starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms. It is notable in film history for being the first English language film to use the word "homosexual". On its release in the United Kingdom it proved highly controversial and in the United States it was initially banned.[1]



A successful barrister, Melville Farr (Bogarde) has a thriving London practice having recently successfully defended a cause célèbre, a "Dr Porchester" accused of murder (an allusion to the real-life 1957 case of John Bodkin Adams[2]). He is on course to become a Queen's Counsel and people are already talking of him being appointed a judge. He is apparently happily married to his wife, Laura (Sylvia Syms).

But Farr is approached, in desperation, by "Boy" Barrett (Peter McEnery), a younger working class man with whom Farr shared an emotional, but asexual relationship. Farr rebuffs the approach, thinking that Barrett wants to blackmail him about their relationship. What Farr does not know is that Barrett himself has fallen prey to blackmailers who know of their relationship. The blackmailers have a picture of Farr and Barrett in a vehicle together, in which Barrett is weeping. Barrett has, in fact, being trying to reach Farr to appeal for help, since Barrett has taken to theft to pay the blackmail and the police are now onto him. With Farr intentionally avoiding him, Barrett is soon picked up by the police, who in turn discover why he was being blackmailed. Knowing that it will be only a matter of time before he is forced to reveal Farr's identity as the other man, Barrett hangs himself in a police cell to protect Farr's secret.

After discovering the truth of what happened to Barrett, Farr decides to take on the blackmail ring and recruits a friend of Barrett's to investigate for him. The friend identifies a gay hairdresser who has also been victimized by the ring, but the hairdresser refuses to divulge who his tormentors are to Farr. However, when the hairdresser is visited by one of the blackmailers, he suffers a heart attack. Prior to his death, he manages to phone Farr's house to leave a mumbled message referring to another victim of the ring.

Farr contacts this victim, a famous actor, who refuses to help him, instead preferring, along with other victims, to acquiesce to the blackmail in hopes of keeping their secret. But the blackmailers note Farr's pursuit and Farr too becomes their victim. Laura finds out about Barrett's death and confronts her husband, demanding he tell her the truth of the situation. In the heated argument that ensues, it turns out that before their marriage Farr had had a relationship with another young man who subsequently killed himself when the relationship ended. He had told Laura about this before they married and promised that he no longer had such urges, but on learning of this new affair, Laura decides to leave the marital home.

The blackmailers vandalise Farr's property, painting "FARR IS QUEER" on his garage doors in an attempt to intimidate him. But Farr resolves to help the police catch them and promises to give evidence in court, despite knowing that the ensuing press coverage will certainly destroy his career. Working with the police, Farr succeeds in ensnaring the blackmailers, who are arrested. He is then surprised to find his wife still at home. He tells her that he prefers her to go ahead and leave, so she will not have to face the brutal ugliness that will befall him during the public trial and testimony. But he lets her know that he will welcome her return when the ordeal is over, if she desires such. She tells him that she believes she has found the strength to do so. Farr then burns the picture that originally incriminated him.

Background and production

Until the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which implemented the recommendations of the Wolfenden report, homosexual acts between consenting adults were illegal in England and Wales. There were prosecutions and Sunday newspapers gave space to the court reports. Yet, by 1960, the police were as relaxed as possible over the old laws. There was a feeling that the code violated decent liberty. But police restraint did not deter the menace of blackmail.

When the team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden first approached Bogarde, they warned him that a lot of people had already turned down the script because the material might be considered dangerous or unwholesome. In 1960, Bogarde was 39 and just about the most popular actor in British films. He had proven himself playing war heroes (The Sea Shall Not Have Them; Ill Met by Moonlight); he was the star of the hugely successful Doctor film series; and he was a reliable romantic lead in movies like A Tale of Two Cities. He was flirting with a larger, Hollywood career—playing Liszt in Song Without End. Bogarde was suspected to be homosexual, living in the same house as his business manager, Anthony Forwood, and was compelled every now and then to be seen in public with attractive young women. He seems not to have hesitated over the role of Farr. Similarly, Sylvia Syms never flinched from the part of his wife, though apparently several actresses had turned it down.


Victim became a highly sociologically significant film; many believe it played an influential role in liberalizing attitudes (as well as the laws in Britain) regarding homosexuality.[citation needed]

Today though, the film is seen in a less positive light, sometimes being criticised for showing sympathy rather than advocacy, and the use of the term "inverts" being seen negatively. In fact, the word "homosexual" is used throughout the film, and "invert" is used only once, in an adjectival form. Originally given a 'X' certificate by the British Board of Film Censors in 1961, its most recent UK cinema re-release in 2005 received a 'PG' rating.[3]

It was the use of the term "homosexual" which kept the film from being released at first in the U.S. The film code changed within a year, and the film made its first official appearance in America.

The term "queer" is used in the film, with anticipation of complete understanding on the part of the (British) audience in two completely different ways. As reported, "FARR IS QUEER" is painted on Farr's garage door (i.e. Farr is homosexual), and the expression "Queer Street" (meaning in desperate poverty) is used in a letter to some red herring blackmailers.


See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Cullen, Pamela V., Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams, London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9
  3. ^ Case Study: Victim, Students' British Board of Film Classification

External links

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