Culture Trips

Why Dirk Bogarde was a truly dangerous film star

In an interview for the Legends documentary, Charlotte Rampling says of Bogarde: “He was for me a good and great man, but he wasn’t a goody-goody, that’s for sure.” Her mouth then curves in delight: “He was wicked.” This is correct. He was irreverent and unshocked by taboos, drawn to edgy material, not to provoke, but to show a lesser-seen side of human nature. He regularly rejected praise that he was “brave” as he was driven by integrity, acting out his interests with an acid sense of humour, and choosing to collaborate with idiosyncratic greats who also included John Schlesinger (1965’s Darling), Alain Resnais (1977’s Providence), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1978’s Despair) and Bertrand Tavernier (1990’s Daddy Nostalgie).

Across the final two decades of his life, before his death in 1999, the inveterate letter-writer almost gave up on acting, and instead turned to public penmanship in the form of six novels, ten memoirs, and wide-ranging forms of journalism. His writing is indecently great; crisp, funny, detailed and full of the feelings that powered his acting. After Forwood died from cancer in 1988, Bogarde became a book reviewer for The Telegraph at literary editor Nicholas Shakespeare’s suggestion. “Nicholas didn’t know it at the time , but it was he who chucked a plank across the ravine for me,” wrote Bogarde in the introduction to his journalism collection For The Time Being, When Shakespeare moved on, it was Coldstream, in fact, who became Bogarde’s editor. At the beginning of our call, Coldstream says simply of his old friend and colleague: “I miss him”. 

Looking back at his career inspires a sense of loss – not only for Bogarde as an actor, but for a personality that served higher ideals than box-office bottom lines, and deeper truths than a wipe-clean image. Perhaps the modern star most comparable to him is Robert Pattinson, who turned his back on mega stardom after the Twilight franchise to make strange, transgressive films with directors like David Cronenberg, The Safdie Brothers and Claire Denis. Still, Pattinson’s choices are artistically niche with a side of nihilism, rather than morally challenging, and hence he is tame by comparison. There is no one today like Dirk Bogarde. 

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