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Dirk Bogarde: The Authorised Biography by John Coldstream

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: Good

Michael Coveney's Review of John Coldstream's even-handed biography Dirk Bogarde, The Guardian

In this leisurely, remarkably lucid and thoroughly absorbing biography, John Coldstream later quotes the story of the pint-sized cowboy actor Alan Ladd being accosted in a studio canteen at the end of a long session of frenzied filming. He was asked to explain what he had done all day: "I did a great look."

Bogarde did a great look. All the time. As the consummate artist on celluloid, you could compare him only with Spencer Tracey or his near namesake Humphrey Bogart. In Britain, his only rivals were Trevor Howard and James Mason. But there was something different, something special, about Bogarde's temperament, that defined his absolute modernity, and Coldstream goes a long way towards explaining this.

First, he was a huge heart-throb. When he went on tour in a Peter Hall production of Ugo Betti's Summertime in 1955, he was mobbed at stage doors. Inside, the auditorium was in perpetual hubbub. He had been an "above the title" star in the Rank films since 1947, notably as the dashing Simon Sparrow in the "Doctor" series, and as a new, nervy type of screen criminal in The Blue Lamp (1949).

And his insolence and self-assurance, combined with an unmistakeable air of sexual ambiguity and danger, made him much more like James Dean, or the singer Johnny Ray, than such other Rank stalwarts as Stewart Granger, Jack Hawkins or Kenneth More. He was English, sure, but there was an exotic, un-English quality of existential angst that was never going to find fulfilment in Hollywood.

Bogarde was difficult and demanding in the best way. People hurt, or surprised, by his habitual rudeness got used to it. One of Bogarde's best films is Darling (1966), with Julie Christie playing a blithe spirit haunting fashionable London. Years afterwards, when Bogarde turned up for dinner at John Schlesinger's, he said in the hearing of other guests: "John, this is a rich man's house, but you've had nothing but flops."

He was vain, narcissistic and waspish. His complex, disturbing character was the reason he was a great actor. Discreet about his sexuality, he lived for almost 50 years with the charming, handsome Anthony Forwood, a bisexual actor who became his manager, companion and confidant. Beyond that, there is nothing we need know.

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