Part of a series of "social problem" pictures made by the director-producer team of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, Victim was a genuine landmark in British cinema on its original release in 1961, as the first ever British film to use the word "homosexual". If it now appears quaintly old-fashioned in its attitudes and assumptions, it still impresses thanks to Dirk Bogarde's performance as the closeted middle-aged barrister, who risks his marriage and reputation by pursuing the mystery blackmailers of gay male Londoners.
With Victim, Dearden and Relph had a clear ideological agenda: they were attempting to change the laws which criminalised homosexuality and which thereby encouraged the blackmail of homosexuals. Shooting on location, the filmmakers used the conventions of a noirish thriller (including stylised lighting) to present an audience with a plea for tolerance, sympathy and compassion towards what even the liberal-minded police inspector calls "inverts".
"THE FILM HAS DATED IN OBVIOUS WAYS"
Viewed some 45 years on, the film has dated in obvious ways, not least in the way the script restricts characters to particular viewpoints. Victim might depict a cross-section of gay life, which spans different classes and occupations, yet it patronisingly treats those who experience same-sex desires as "unfortunate devils" for whom there is "no magic cure". But the intensity of Bogarde's portrayal of Melville Tarr, not least where the character confesses to his shocked wife (Sylvia Syms) his passionate feelings for a younger man, compensate for the film's well-intentioned cautiousness.