At the ripe age of 24, Julie Christie dazzled audiences in her performance as Diana Scott in director John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965). Two years prior, Schlesinger cast Christie in Billy Liar (1963) opposite Tom Courtenay to notice. Critics pointed to a dissonance of depth form the novel and play lead character renditions of the same title. Her role as free-spirited Liz is commented less upon; however, Billy Liar’s jokester quality earned it distinction from the Kitchen Sink variety of “new wave” in British films. Christie won the Best Actress Oscar in 1966 for this portrayal. How did Darling obliterate the clean sweep anticipated by The Sound of Music?
Purposefully selecting a black and white schema, Schlesinger cast a mood reminiscent of La Dolce Vita in sexual decadence, apathy, and bourgeoisie represented in latter portions of the film. Moving the credits forward, a man glues and smoothes an advertisement of a large female face belonging to Diana Scott (Julie Christie). Youthful, engaging eyes, Diana’s gigantic face fills the rectangular space with joie de vie rather than wisdom. Camera cuts to a slightly mature reporter Robert Gold (Dick Bogarde, noticeably the same man Gustav von Aschenbach from Visconti‘s Death in Venice (1971) adapted from Thomas Mann‘s novella Death in Venice (1911)) who selects Diana to comment on the unconformist generation she supposedly is aligned. Her participation ceases not with the street interview, but a prolonged editing session and subsequent meetings with this married family man.
Diana spins and moves in a carefree manner that belies any calculating methods. Yet, Schlesinger’s lens spies her assessing her rivals, his wife and two children through binoculars. All is not sandcastles and leisurely writer visits devoid of intention. Easily, she obtains her man Robert and casts her first husband aside proclaiming him to be a mere boy. While Robert writes, Diana pursues modeling. Brandishing her untamed identity, she toys with an elite advertising whorish executive named Miles Brand (Laurence Harvery). Their romps preoccupy Diana’s inability to remain pleasantly idle while Robert resumes his reporting demands. Her affair dismantles any modicum of trust and love Robert and Diana manifested. Discounting implications, Diana cartwheels across Europe in the swinging sixties as she shoots commercials. Supercilious Miles disappoints Diana long enough for her to consider Italian nobility.
The trite phrase of “all that glitters is not gold” rings true especially in this scenario. Audiences of today will somewhat shudder as the headlines read “Princess Diana” in echoes of the late princess in England. Diana Scott marries a mature Italian Prince only to become one of his forgotten illustrious and neglected ornaments in the manor. Her rage upon his disrespect and absence rips her papier-mâché facade. She arranges a triumphant return to Robert whom she envisions as the sole man she loved. Avenging his heartache, he drives Diana back to the airport swiftly following the tryst. Her childish pleading terminates at the airport’s curb. Adorning sunglasses, she laments no more and assumes the proud, coldish role demanded by her title as tabloid reporters swarm her space.
Beauty and charm are natural weapons for Diana accelerating upward mobility and fame/notoriety. Playthings lose momentum and her mistreatment of people removed any support and care necessary for her mental well-being. Schlesinger ends the film lending an assumption that Princess Diana may return to the castle, but won’t ever find her nest.
Schlesinger boldly tackled a laisse-faire tale that did not contain a parable or altogether portrait of good winning over bad. Faulted as Diana was, none of the characters warranted sympathy aside from the aging writer apart from the plot’s action. Schlesinger captured a shape shifting view on morals and hazards that connected with reality more than the lovely, neatly orchestrated The Sound of Music. Due to this approach, Darling garnered awards in quick succession.