Dearden was born Basil Dear in Essex on new years day 1911. He worked
initially for an insurance company and whilst working he was getting
involved in amateur dramatics. In 1931 he became a general stage manager
for the theatrical enterprises of the impresario Basil Dean. He entered
films as an assistant to director Basil Dean (Dearden changed his
name from Dear to Dearden to avoid being confused with Dean).
worked his way up the ladder and directed (with Will Hay) his first
film in 1941; two years later he directed his first film on his own.
‘The Bells Go Down’ (1943) celebrates the heroism of those
who worked in the Auxiliary Fire Service during the blitz. The art
director on the film was Michael Relph, who was to form a fruitful
creative partnership with Dearden which was to last nearly thirty
years. Together the two made films on themes not often tackled in
British films, such as homosexuality and race relations.
Dearden's career in popular British film culture spans three decades,
from the 1940s to the early 1970s. He worked in a variety of different
production contexts: as a contract director at Ealing Studios in the
1940s and early 1950s, as a semi-independent producer/director in
the 1950s and early 1960s and he headed multinational co-productions
in the latter half of the 1960s.
efficient if impersonal technique enabled him to direct comedies (Smallest
Show on Earth), psychological dramas (Victim) and murder mysteries
(Woman of Straw) with equal success. One of his more notable pieces
of works was ‘Victim’ (1961) - brave for its time, without
being perhaps the radical piece of film some have claimed it to be.
It is arguable that films such as Philadelphia (1993) owe a debt to
it, at least in terms of the skilful way difficult subjects are dealt
with on screen to wider audiences.
In the '60s Dearden embarked on a new phase of his career by directing
large-scale action pictures, the best of which was Khartoum (1966),
which was a critical and financial success. The film was based on
the true exploits of 'Chinese
was nominated for an oscar and two BAFTA's Olivier in my view steels
the film and Heston was miscast but was there to give it a strong
confined to a single genre, his output included comedies, war films,
social drama, allegorical fantasies, thrillers and epic spectacles.
Many of these films were made in collaboration with the production
designer/producer Michael Relph on whose own directorial efforts Dearden
figured as producer. Despite a long, diverse and mostly successful
career, however, Dearden has rarely been accorded great significance
in discourses on British cinema and his work has been overshadowed
by more colourful figures such as Hitchcock, Michael Powell or David
In looking back over Deardens work critics have argued that it without
significant depth or breadth. I would simply conclude that this is
not the case. The man who moved fairly seamlessly from ‘Saraband
for dead lovers’ (1948) to ‘The League of Gentleman’
(1959) to Victim (1961) shows both artistic diversity and talent.
His film ‘Sapphire’ (1959) was ahead of its time and especial
mention should be made of Nigel Patrick in the staring role.
Dearden died in an auto crash at the age of 60; he was survived by
his son, writer/director James Dearden.