Barrett (Peter McEnery) is at work on a building site when he notices a police car draw up nearby and panics - he has been embezzling. He flees to the nearest telephone and calls his flatmate to get a package and bring it to him as soon as possible; there are police at his flat as well, but the friend manages to escape and the package is received by Barrett who then calls barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), but he tells him never to contact him again. Desperate, Barrett knows he must flee the country, but the cops catch up with him in a motorway cafe and the whole blackmail plot begins to be exposed - yet lives are in the balance...
Victim may have taken the form of a blackmail mystery, but it had serious social issues on its mind. When it was made, homosexuality was still illegal in Britain and most of the world for that matter, and as the inspector says in the film, this was a blackmailer's charter. The same team who had made this had tackled another of society's troubles in Sapphire where racism was at the centre of the drama, but they found Victim would be far more problematic in that nobody wanted to be in it, and when it was finally made nobody wanted to see it, this despite the publicity it had generated.
Dirk Bogarde was that brave matinee idol stepping into the most controversial role of his career to that date, but not only did this free him from the Doctor in the House type of role he was growing sick of, but it led the way to more adventurous films in the proceeding decade. He brings integrity to Victim, and you believe him when he says he was involved with Barrett "Because I wanted him!", a daring scene in a film that really could have used more spark. In fact, the guilt that the homosexual characters feel seems to affect Janet Green and John McCormick's screenplay, as if they're uneasily making excuses in the face of national opprobrium.
Every so often there will be a conversation along the lines of "those poor people, they don't deserve such treatment, it's not their fault they are the way they are" and so on, to counter the more objectionable "bunch of perverts" vitriol other characters spout. Director Basil Dearden makes the point clearly in favour for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but he does so by having Farr a happily married man at the outset - heterosexual viewers at the time might have been baffled that he would bother with another man when he was married to a woman who looked like Sylvia Syms.
Farr's wife is horrified but supportive when she finds out that he had recently broken off a relationship with Barrett, and now Barrett has killed himself in police custody the powerful barrister is the victim of blackmail himself. But he is not going to give in without a fight, and the whodunnit narrative sets in where Farr hunts down the criminals alone. One thing about the film is the way it portrays its homosexuals not as freaks but deeply ordinary folks, with only Dennis Price's actor displaying the slightest touch of flamboyance, but this doesn't make for an exciting thriller. It's heart may be in the right place, and it is rightly admired for assisting in the scrapping of the unjust laws a few years later, but Victim is a worthy and earnest period piece now. In a way, it's good that it is so dated compared to today. Music by Philip Green.