DARLING (John Schlesinger, 1965)

In Darling, Julie Christie dazzles as model Diana Scott, whose rise to the top of London’s fashion scene is helped by her selection of bed partners; this superbly inflected performance made Christie a star and won her Academy Awards in Britain and the U.S., along with other prizes from the New York critics and the National Board of Review. It is the principal reason why one can watch the satirical comedy with renewed pleasure time and time again.
     But the film is also famous for itself. The writing of Frederic Raphael is wonderfully witty (best screenplay Oscar, BAFTA, New York critics), and John Schlesinger’s direction is, if nothing else, stylish (best direction, BAFTA, New York critics). The British Academy and the New York critics likewise named Darling the year’s best film, but the thing works only part-way and was largely overrated in the first place.
     The film is at its best early on, when it weighs each against the other Britain Past and Britain Present, the traditional and the “mod.” As for Diana, she is a hoot as her voiceover insists on her concern for others, which what we see for ourselves contests— the most delightful structural procedure of Raphael’s script. However, the film goes downhill once it forsakes satire for the soap opera of Diana’s personal life and fortunes. Princess Diana—she becomes this through marriage—ends up a mighty lonely woman, and with seven stepchildren, no less: delivered by Raphael and Schlesinger, a smug comeuppance.
     Still, Christie rivets attention (in a role somewhat like the one that Barbara Stanwyck brilliantly plays in the 1933 Baby Face)—although the other acting fails to measure up. Dirk Bogarde’s best actor prize from the British Academy, for such glum self-pity as Diana’s discarded lover, is indeed incomprehensible.


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