Sunday, May 28, 2017

#2,361. Darling (1965)

Directed By: John Schlesinger

Starring: Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey

Tag line: "Shame, shame, everybody knows your name!"

Trivia: Shirley MacLaine was originally cast as Diana, but dropped out

Julie Christie is one of my all-time favorite actresses. Her “hooker with a heart of gold” was the only character worth a damn in Robert Altman’s brilliant McCabe & Mrs. Miller; and in Dr. Zhivago, despite being surrounded by such legendary actors as Omar Sharif and Rod Steiger, she managed to shine brightly. With her excellent performances in these movies, as well as Shampoo, Don’t Look Now, Fahrenheit 451, and Away From Her, you'd think that Ms. Christie has already amassed a slew of Oscar statuettes. But the sad reality is that she only took home that coveted award once, for her portrayal of Diana Scott in 1965’s Darling.

Truth be told, not many actresses could take a character as morally bankrupt as Diana and make her seem fascinating, but Christie does just that in John Schlesinger’s award-winning, though ultimately flawed motion picture.

Darling follows Diana’s meteoric rise to the top of the fashion industry in 1960’s London, beginning with her days as a young housewife (married to her childhood sweetheart, Tony, played by Trevor Bower) through to the time she met and fell in love with writer / television personality Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), who eventually abandoned his wife and two kids to be with Diana (she, in turn, left Tony and moved in with Robert). 

Yet despite her feelings for Robert, Diana grew bored of her humdrum life, and while helping out at a charity event one evening she was introduced to Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey), a powerful advertising executive, who swept her off her feet. It was Miles who helped Diana break into modeling, and her ambition soon got the better of her. Shortly after her love affairs with Robert and Miles ended, Diana, while vacationing in Capri, met Italian Prince Cesare della Romita (José Luis de Villalonga), who was so smitten with her that he asked Diana to be his wife. For a girl like Diana, becoming a Princess was a dream come true, but was she ready to throw away her career and settle down?

Whatever affection we feel for Diana early on, when she falls madly in love with Robert, slowly slips away over the course of Darling. By the time she becomes a fixture in the glamorous yet empty world of ‘60s fashion and begins sleeping with Laurence Harvey’s Miles (an affair that, the moment it begins, we know won’t last), I found myself hoping that Robert would discover her tryst and give Diana her walking papers. From her phony demeanor while chatting with the so-called “elite” of London society to the manner in which she leads on the Prince late in the film, Diana grows increasingly more loathsome as the movie progresses.

In the hands of any other actress, Diana’s antics might become tiresome, but Christie keeps us engaged by allowing a glimmer of humanity to occasionally peek its way through her character’s façade. More often than not, this “glimmer” is so slight that it’s barely perceivable. But it’s there, and usually sticks around just long enough to remind us that Diana is, in reality, a lost soul, following her ambitions down whatever path they may lead her. It’s a journey she takes often enough throughout Darling, yet rarely does it produce the result she desires. Diana Scott does some awful things throughout Darling, but Christie somehow fools us, however briefly, into believing there’s more to this young woman than meets the eye, and that alone is enough to keep us watching… and hoping. 

Still, even with Christie’s tour-de-force performance, the excellent supporting work turned in by both Bogarde and Harvey, and the film’s progressive attitude towards such previously taboo subjects as abortion, promiscuity, and homosexuality (some of the movie’s best sequences involve Diana’s holiday in Capri, which she spends in the company of gay photographer Malcolm, portrayed by Roland Currem), Darling is a tough movie to recommend. It’s played far too straight to be a satire (which makes it all the more depressing), and the period it recreates (the swinging ‘60s) may be a bit too archaic for modern audiences.

In fact, I can’t imagine a time when I myself will want to sit through Darling again. Julie Christine has turned in numerous Oscar-worthy performances over the course of her career, and I’d probably choose any one of them over the role that actually netted her the award!

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