The First Part of a Televisual Life of the British Film Star
Dirk Bogarde was always something of an enigma. Promoted by the Rank Organization during the height of his stardom as a great lover and squire of all the female stars and starlets on the Pinewood Studios lot, he lived an exceptionally private offscreen life with long-term partner and manager Anthomy Forwood.
Apparently never backward about coming forward (he wrote eight volumes of autobiography), Bogarde was in truth someone who carefully constructed his life and destroyed any evidence that might affect that construction. Just before he moved back to the UK from his Provençal retreat, he systematically burned most of his personal archive.
Trying to reconstruct his life from the scanty evidence available proved a difficult task. Adam Low's documentary concentrated on his childhood, which was apparently idyllic until he was sent away to live with his aunt and uncle in Glasgow. Tormented at school because of his English accent, he resolved never to allow pain to disturb him if he could avoid it.
He entered the Army in 1941 and served for six years as an officer responsible for determining bomber targets. Although he did not pilot the aircraft himself, he nonetheless considered himself responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. He also had several close relationships with fellow-officers, although most of them (except one) were never referred to in his extant papers.
What proved most intriguing in this part was the means by which Bogarde reinvented his familial origins. He always claimed he was from Dutch stock; in fact his ancestors came from Belgium and inhabited a château that he never visited (although he claimed otherwise in his autobiographies). He had a younger brother Gareth (born in 1933), to whom he was consistently cruel; maybe it was because Gareth commanded all his mother's attention while Dirk was neglected. His sister Elizabeth (born in 1924) remained close to Dirk, but assumed a subordinate role throughout her life; she was always expected to fetch and carry for him.
Bogarde met Forwood immediately after the war's end, and the two of them shared a life together until Forwood's death in 1988. By all accounts the two of them had an idyllic existence: Anthony's son Gareth (born in 1945) fitted seamlessly as the third member of a ménage a trois, addressing Dirk as "Uncle Dirk." The home movies taken of their lives were poignant, evoking an innocent postwar world of perpetual sunshine and unaccustomed foreign travel where everything seemed perfect.
And herein lay the program's biggest contradiction. While Bogarde yearned for perfection, he was prepared to go to any lengths to create it. He seldom gave of himself, either on or off screen; indeed, he came across as a rather unsavory character, a control freak with little or no concern for others except himself. This might be a characteristic shared by all great stars, but Bogarde possessed such qualities in shards.
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