Starring: Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey
Director: John Schlesinger
With hindsight you can see the clear European influences on this 1965 tale of a carefree Chelsea girl who rises up to become a countess, shedding men and illusions upon the way. There’s a Truffautesque blitheness to the early scenes where Julie Christie’s Diana is swept out of obscurity by Dirk Bogarde’s awfully nice man from the BBC (presenter of a horribly earnest programme called “Art and You”). Then Fellini takes over as Diana parties with Laurence Harvey’s cynical, sexually ambivalent playboy and his louche Eurotrash cronies. And finally Antonioni is the presiding spirit in a final act that’s all spiritual desolation under harsh Italian sunlit.
By the end we’ve learnt that Diana is shallow, hypocritical, mercenary and cruel to her goldfish – points all hammered home in Frederic Raphael’s bitchy, loquacious script, which ironically contrasts a gushing woman’s magazine style voiceover with the less than lily-white realities of the model-turned actress-turned socialite’s life. But that’s not the whole story. There’s a lyricism to director John Schlesinger’s scene-setting which softens the script’s obvious tilts at declining cultural and moral standards, and Christie does something miraculous with Diana – breathing life into her and making her hypocrisy and fakeness seem not like cold calculations but like the restless trying on of hats of someone who feels cramped and confined by society’s traditional expectations of women.
On top of that, you get excellent performances from Bogarde and Harvey as the languid men who get trampled under Diana’s feet, a parade of beguiling Mod fashions, and some marvellously acidic lines: “I don’t take whores in taxis.” “Put away your Penguin Freud, Diana.” It was a daring film for its time too – in its depiction of a London that not only swings but swings both ways, in Christie’s brief but telling nude scene towards the end. For all these reasons, Darling stands head and shoulders over most British movies of the early ’60s, even if, like its heroine, it seems to have identity issues and even if it is a bit dated around the edges. 8/10
Some rather busy and persistent grain, but no print damage, and the set-pieces come up with airy freshness and an attractive bloom – an early stroll on the banks of the Thames, the cottage on Capri. The HD transfer retains the 1.66:1 aspect ratio of the original theatrical release, with slim borders at each end. 6/10