Dec 5, 2014

Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965)

London has never seemed so decadent and immoral as in John Schlesinger’s “Darling,” a transitional film of the mid-1960s, released after the height of the Kitchen Sink Realism School (“Look Back in Anger,” “Room at the Top,” “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”) and around the time of the new movies about swinging London, beginning with the Beatles movies like “Help.”
As written by Frederic Raphael (based on his story) and directed by Schlesinger (who also contributed to the story with producer Joseph Janni), this movie couldn’t have been made in the 1950s due to censorship problems in depicting sexual promiscuity, abortion, and homosexuality. However, decades on, the film looks tame, a bit shallow-and too much of an allegory about a life devoid of any values or morals.

Julie Christie, then 23, became an overnight sensation after winning the Best Actress Oscar for playing Diana Scott, the amoral and immoral heroine who drifts into success easily and casually–at a price.
In the course of the plot, Diana works as a model and a bit actress, deserts her husband, and drifts through a series of affairs before settling on an empty, secluded life as a bored wife of an Italian aristocrat, learning the hard way the heavy toll of fame–and emptiness. One of the problems of the film is that we get a portrait of a young woman that spans years, but despite the scope, the narrative just moves from one chapter to another without explaining much the transitions in Diana’s life.
Giving a cool, stylized performance, Julie Christie is still the main reason to see the movie. Film critics have been too harsh, I think, on the picture, and how badly it has dated over the years.
There are still merits in the detached approach of John Schlesinger, who had assembled an amazing cast for this film, including Laurence Harvey, Dirk Bogarde, Alex Scott, and Helen Lindsay.
At the time of its release, some critic like Andrew Sarris perceive Darling to be a British response to the swinging, cafe society depicted in Fellini’s superior La Dolce Vita.
Julie Christie was discovered by John Schlesinger in 1963, when he cast her in his film Billy Liar, starring Tom Courtenay.
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