Basil Dearden


Suggested Films:


Sapphire (1959)
The League of Gentlemen(1959)
The Blue Lamp (1950)

Basil 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).

He 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.

Dearden's 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 Gordon'. It 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 american appeal.

Not 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 Lean.

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.

Basil Dearden died in an auto crash at the age of 60; he was survived by his son, writer/director James Dearden.













basil dearden , british film, british director, british movie