Julie Christie is quite simply darling
Darling is razor-sharp comedy that satirises the Swinging Sixties whilst taking notes from the French ‘new wave’.Although the film has undoubtedly dated to a degree and some of its attitudes towards gender, sexuality and race would be unacceptable these days, it still retains an undeniable energy and charm fifty years later. This is in a large part thanks to a daring and very funny script from Frederic Raphael, who won an Academy Award for his efforts.
However the film’s biggest asset is Julie Christie’s wonderful performance as Diana Scott, the care-free but amoral model who sleeps her way to the top at the height of the sixties fashion world. Christie deservedly won an Academy Award as Best Actress for the role and the film, along with Doctor Zhivago that same year, established her as a star.
As good as Christie is, the rest of the cast are also on excellent form, with Dirk Bogarde playing one of Diana’s stepping stones and Laurence Harvey as an equally amoral advertising executive who opens Diana’s eyes to reality of sixties Europe. With its frank approach towards sex, abortion and even some nudity the film was, along with Blow Up a few years later, a watershed in terms of what would be considered acceptable on the cinema screen.
The film was directed by John Schlesinger, who had previously collaborated with Julie Christie on Billy Liar and would again two years later with his adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd. Schlesinger was also nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director but didn’t win, he would get his Oscar four years later with the equally daring Midnight Cowboy; still the only X-rated film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The very funny script, the universal themes and Julie Christie make Darling as enjoyable today as it was fifty years ago.
Schlesinger was clearly influenced by the French 'new wave' and especially Goddard and Truffaut, so the black and white photography incorporates jump cuts, freeze frames and a degree of cinema vérité. This approach results in a film that is both an observation on and a satire of the London at that time, making it something of a time capsule. However the film’s story is universal, as is the idea that whatever your ultimate goals may be, your actions will always have consequences.
Darling is unintentionally prescient, so as Diana’s fame increases and she marries into Italian royalty, we’re confronted with the sight of another ‘Princess Diana’ being hounded by the media. It's also very funny, with Frederic Raphael’s screenplay full of bitchy comments and scathing one-liners. In fact Darling's tale of the desperate and, at times tragic, pursuit of fame is probably more relevant today in our image conscious society than it was when it was made fifty years ago.
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