This Part of the Documentary Shows a Little More of the True Bogarde
Dirk Bogarde's life underwent significant change from the early Sixties onward when he moved away from his matinée idol roles and took on more challenging material. What was tangible from the second part of this bio-doc was that many such roles dramatized conflicts within his personality.
Take VICTIM (1961), for instance - a groundbreaking drama in which a successful lawyer (Bogarde) admits to his wife (Sylvia Syms) that he has affections for a young male lover (Peter McEnery) and suffers blackmail as a result. Needless to say Syms is traumatized by the news, but Basil Dearden's film emphasizes the personal agony lying behind Bogarde's public persona, as he could never admit his true sexuality. Even when the laws concerning homosexuality were changed at the end of that decade, Bogarde stubbornly refused to admit anything about himself. In a DESERT ISLAND DISCS episode from 1989 presenter Sue Lawley asked him the question directly, and Bogarde answered with a flat negative. Viewers were left to wonder what kind of a person would be so buttoned-up as to remain so emotionally stunted. Perhaps it was part of his strict upbringing.
In 1963 Bogarde won several plaudits for his role as the sadist in THE SERVANT. With a script by Harold Pinter, the film offered the actor the chance to explore the dark side of his nature; that capacity for cruelty and indifference that rendered him so neglectful of his brother Gareth. Eleven years later Bogarde explored that trait in even greater depth in THE NIGHT PORTER, where he played an ex-Nazi now working in a hotel. Through scenes of sadism involving a young woman, played by Charlotte Rampling, we discovered the extent to which Bogarde's World War II experiences had scarred him for life, and how he spent his entire postwar existence trying to cover them up under a façade of geniality.
In his latter screen career, the distinction between Bogarde's on and offscreen personalities became far more pronounced. In one of his greatest roles in Visconti's DEATH IN VENICE (1971), where he played Ashenbach, we wondered whether the great writer's unexpressed longing for a young boy (Björn Andrésen) in some way embodied the actor's own struggles. Bogarde was certainly not a pedophile, but he could never express his longings for other men in any public utterance. One contributor praised Bogarde's ability to create an atmosphere of stillness, especially in his most emotional scenes - perhaps that stillness was underpinned by satisfaction that he had last found an outlet for his passions.
Bogarde died alone in a Chelsea flat after having suffered two strokes. He remained cantankerous to the end: just before he passed, he had rudely dismissed his sister Elizabeth who had come to pay him a social call. Yet perhaps death was the only outlet for him at the end of a long life spent trying to conceal rather than reveal: we never knew who the "real" Bogarde was, unless we look closely at some of his movies.
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