"Tell them there's no magic cure for how we are!"
A young gay man hangs himself in a police cell. Investigating officers find a connection to Melville Farr, a respectable barrister who will soon make Queen's Counsel, with a judgeship, perhaps, to follow. Farr faces a dilemma. He can help break a blackmail ring, but only at cost of career and reputation. It's 1961, and cooperation means his own homosexual tendencies will come to light. The investigation will prove difficult in other ways too. The ring operates in areas of London inhabited almost entirely by red herrings.
The cast do a fine job. Dirk Bogarde is excellent as Melville. He was an actor's actor who, after achieving commercial success, turned to more rewarding artistic work. This film, shot entirely on location, also gives us a fascinating tour of the streets and pubs, the places high and low, of early 60s England.
Allegedly the first mainstream English-language movie to use the word "homosexual," Basil Dearden's Victim manages to be progressive for its time. Our likeable protagonist has homosexual leanings, sure, but he's been battling them, and his wife plans to remain by his side. Our chief investigator has no use for laws criminalizing private, consensual sexual behavior, but it's clear he's as straight as a line. And the blackmailers, when exposed, prove utterly contemptible. One is a mocking, leering criminal voyeur who comes across as, well, effeminate. The other is a self-righteous prig wallowing in hypocrisy, a person claiming moral outrage but comfortable profiting from crime.
Victim is a piece of history, a flawed but fascinating snapshot of another era. It also may have helped change that era; England would decriminalize homosexual activity in 1967, ahead of many western democracies.