Wednesday, 17 September 2014

When Dirk Dared

Tucked away in the early morning TV schedules, I came across a film called ‘Victim’. I looked it up, not having heard of it before, and discovered a fascinating piece of history. ‘Victim’ was made in 1961 and stars Dirk Bogarde.  Apparently his taking this part was a big risk, which in itself tells us something about the climate of the day and encapsulates the film’s theme.  Basically, this is a film about homosexuality among men, and the reasons why it should be decriminalised and accepted as part of society.  This film was made at a time when love between two men was still a crime punishable by prison in a legal sense and ostracism and hate in general.  Things were slowly beginning to change, obviously the arguments were in full force before final decriminalisation in 1967. Acts such as this one have a tendency to rumble on for a few years before going through parliament.  Also, I think that the fact that Bogarde took the part shows that he thought that there was some possibility that his career and livelihood wouldn’t be totally destroyed.  Did he detect a thaw in the air?

Defiant Dirk drawn by @aitchteee

 I realise that things are still not perfect for gay men out there.  Coincidentally, on the same day that I watched ‘Victim’ I was browsing on Twitter and I saw a post from the Reverend Richard Coles. He put up a photograph of a letter that he had received. This letter was from a person who firmly believes that there is far too much of this sort of thing and soon everyone will be gay and there will be no more babies being born.  Or something.  They were of the school of thought that being gay is catching. Anyway it just shows that there are still people out there with distinctly old fashioned attitudes.  And they might be in a position to discriminate in any number of ways.  As a female I can understand that there will be the occasional meetings with people whose outlook is stuck in a chauvinistic time warp. But at least now we all have the law on our side, and discrimination and victimisation can be fought.  It is alright to speak out when we are affected by these issues. To watch ‘Victim’ is to see how far we have moved on, and to view historical documentation showing how homosexuality as a criminal offence impacted society.

The story begins with a handsome young lad called Boy Barrett who is in a panic and on the run from the police. He tries repeatedly to contact eminent barrister Farr (Bogarde) who continually brushes him off. It transpires that the two men have had a fleeting lovelorn relationship and that they were photographed in Farr’s car. This photograph was deliberately taken by a blackmailer and has been used to coerce Boy into stealing money from his workplace.  The police have now been called in and he is keen to keep the man he loves' name out of it.  He is picked up and taken to the station where he is interviewed by a liberal minded detective and his puritan assistant.  The detective has an idea why Boy has stolen the money and tries to coax the truth out of him. He refuses to speak, and when he is sent back to his cell he hangs himself.

When Farr finds out about the death of Boy he is filled with remorse – he thought that he wanted to blackmail him when he only wanted to protect his good name.  He sets out to find the blackmailers and tracks down others who are also being targeted. These men include a hairdresser; old and tired after four stints in prison because of his sexual “misdemeanours”.  Dennis Price plays an actor reminiscent of Noel Coward who is very keen to protect his image and must live life in the closet.  Farr himself is married and has battled against his true feelings. In this way we are presented with a whole string of victims. A young man dies, as does the older hairdresser, both having been denied the chance to live a full life. Men battle their perceived demons and one of them takes a wife in an attempt to look respectable to society. This also wrecks her chances of a happy life.  The film presents to us the sheer waste of life that this law and the attitudes behind it are responsible for.   It is a waste of public resources too, as an otherwise law abiding man has spent months of his life in prison, while police spend hours chasing blackmailers who thrive on this law. ‘Victim’ presents the pragmatic arguments for abolishing the law as well as showing sympathy for those caught out by it.  It demonstrates to us how life was before and why it needed to change – a fascinating peep into the transition phase of Britain from an uptight conservative society to the more liberal one that we know today.

The History Usherette's Second Seat Third Row is now available as an Amazon Kindle download for 77p.

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