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Reflecting on ‘Death in Venice’ at 50 – Dirk Bogarde’s finest performance

Join Greg and Sam as they discuss Luchino Visconti’s 1971 masterpiece.

Death in Venice
Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

EF's Greg Jameson and Samuel Payne recently met up to celebrate an important cinematic landmark – the 50th anniversary of the release of Luchino Visconti's 'Death in Venice', starring Dirk Bogarde.

Beautiful, controversial, and possibly a masterpiece, there is much to be said about this fine achievement of European arthouse film. Join us on a frank, funny and reflective chat about why we love Bogarde, return to this film so often, and why we rate it so highly. 


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Greg: Sam, we’ve known each other since 2008, and we hit it off because we were both fans of proper Dr Who and… it transpired, Dirk Bogarde. Yet we were both fairly young when he died in May 1999 – late teens and early 20s – and he’d been off the scene for quite some time, happily retired in France – so where did your affection for him come from?

Sam: Dirko? Oh good question. I don’t think I was all that aware of Dirk Bogarde before about 2001 – when a very interesting BBC documentary covered his whole life, based on an archive of home cine footage. I thought: what a remarkable man. He was a 1950s matinee idol, yet guarded and mysterious; he was an intelligent actor and a skilled writer, too, with a complex private life. I wanted to know more. How about you?

Greg: I was aware of Dirk Bogarde before his death. The first time I registered him was watching ‘A Bridge Too Far’, Richard Attenborough’s remarkable 1977 WWII epic about the failure of Operation Market Garden in Arnhem. I was only a boy, but my goodness it gripped me, and it introduced me to a whole range of movie stars. Everybody from Robert Redford and James Caan to Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. Sean Connery was the only one I recognised, from James Bond of course.

Sam: Same experience here. Dirk has quite a fleeting part in it, doesn’t he? Anglo-American movies – not his bag by that point in his career. He was flirting with European directors by then, wasn’t he?

Greg: Yes, and he regretted doing it. I later learned from his memoirs (which we’ll come to!) that Bogarde hated every second of his time on ‘A Bridge Too Far’, but his small role was enough to make me a fan! When I heard he’d died, I was in the third year of my time as a student in Glasgow. I can still vividly remember watching his obituary on the BBC news bulletin in the squalid little kitchen of the flat I lived in.

Sam: You can see it now in your mind’s eye…

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