John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965), reissued this week for 50th anniversary celebrations, is at once a time capsule piece and an oddly prescient fable about vacuous, ephemeral celebrity which remains tartly relevant in 2015. It is perhaps best remembered as the film that crowned the imperial phase of Julie Christie’s career with an Oscar, part of a golden run encompassing Billy Liar (1963), Doctor Zhivago (1967) and Don’t Look Now (1973), and lasted right up until Shampoo and Nashville (1975). In retrospect, it’s difficult to fathom why the award came for her portrayal of the one-note Diana Scott in this slightly confused film rather than for her spectacular performance in, say, The Go-Between (1971).
All of which is not to say Christie is not in fine form in her role as a go-getting model and sexual careerist; just that it is a role without great range. Darling is a curious film, chiefly because it is so ambiguous. It is in some ways a satire, but slightly too straight-faced and reverent. Sitting somewhere between the kitchen-sink dramas which defined British film-making in the early part of the decade and the encroaching influence of the Nouvelle Vague, it can be seen in some ways as a precursor to Blowup (1966), which, while released just a year later, feels light years removed in its manipulation of the art from and progressive attitude. Indeed, Darling manages to shoehorn in various reference to sex, homosexuality, infidelity and abortion whilst remaining as light as candyfloss.
It never pierces beneath the frivolous surface of the insular society it creates and it is this peculiar lack of drama, doubt or mystery that marks it out as a curio, certainly in reflection of contemporaneous masterpieces by Godard or Antonioni. Where Darling does feel vital and pertinent is in its treatment of celebrity as a goal unto itself, something to be coveted at all costs. Julie Christie imbues the role of Diana Scott with a calculated, almost dangerous detachment, and a grace that cloaks a staggering selfishness. In one wonderful scene, her gaze locks onto her own reflection whilst making love, and exudes such self-satisfaction and intent that it is enough to send a chill down the spine. It is one of many highlights in a delightful performance, one which elevates a light but enjoyable film about the inexorable rise of the individual in the swinging sixties.
Michael Douglas Hunter