John Schlesinger’s wonderful study of a restless, uncentered modern woman in the mid-60s won Julie Christie her well-deserved Oscar. Here is a portrait of a free-love spirit who loves to play and have fun, but hasn’t the remotest clue of who she is or what would truly make her lastingly happy.
The movie is an English version of La Dolce Vita with many of the same themes: willy-nilly hedonistic sleep-arounds, tv journalism, fashion photographers, paparazzi, commercialism, decadent well-to-dos, hollow religiosity, and no understanding or appreciation of art and civilization. Diana (Christie) even becomes a princess like Grace Kelly or Princess Di in one of the movie’s many enduring timeless strokes.
Aside from Christie’s letter-perfect, nuanced, shifting portrayal of the borderline personality protagonist, there are very fine spot-on performances by all the latter’s men, especially the sleazy Laurence Harvey and sincere Dirk Bogarde who is finally ‘corrupted’ by Diana even as he exacts his mixed-feelings-revenge when least expected.
At one point his character talks about convention, and there is so little of it here beyond surfaces. The movie was made at a time of massive change and is one of the most insightful satires ever of ’60s English society, hitting all the right, hypocritical, phony notes. This is also one of the first movies to present gay characters in a realistic, casual manner upfront amidst the chaos and indecision of Diana’s progression-descent into her ‘compensating fall-back’ role as an Italian princess.
The cynical pet fish symbolism is worth a viewing by itself, and speaks most highly of the satirical movie’s deserving-Oscar-winning screenplay and the hollowness of the uncommitted, faithless lives it reveals.
Darling is an excellent one-of-a-kind document about women’s increased freedom in the 1960s, and looks ahead to the other memorable Schlesinger films–Day of the Locust, Midnight Cowboy, Far from the Madding Crowd, and, arguably his best English film (about an unusual love triangle)–Sunday Bloody Sunday. No, England would never be the same again after this film and Antonioni’s cool, clever Blow-up, filmed at the height of swinging London Carnaby Street culture, amazingly the following year.