Darling (1965) DVD Review

This 1965 British classic by John Schlesinger (Billy Liar, Far From the Madding Crowd, Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man) celebrates its 50th anniversary with a fully restored re-release on blu-ray and DVD. And though it is 50 years old it has not dated in its themes of the emptiness of pursuing fame and fortune, and sense of risk that it takes in depicting a bohemian and swinging 60s lifestyle. It remains fresh and as relevant as ever.

The luminous and beautiful Schlesinger muse Julie Christie is at the heart of the film playing Diana Scott, a model and actress who tells us the story of her life rise to fame. Starting from convent school and then onto jumping recklessly into a marriage with an ‘immature man’ she doesn’t love and separates from, to her meeting and falling for socially conscious and well-known TV journalist Robert Gold (a brilliant and charismatic Dirk Bogarde) whilst both are still married. They fall in love and he introduces her to a wider artistic and cultured circle of people, but Diana remains unsatisfied and uses her connections with advertising executive Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey), to further her career whilst also sleeping with him, amongst others. She also along the way casually has an abortion (because motherhood wouldn’t be good for her career). Whilst also indulging in her bohemian, carefree lifestyle with gay best friend and magazine photographer Malcolm (Roland Curram). When she meets an Italian prince her fate as a famous and rich woman is sealed, but her pursuit of fame and fortune comes at a cost. Ultimately Diana sees that the life she has pursued so determinedly is empty, lonely and dull (symbolised in the massive empty mansion she lives in), and that she has sacrificed love for an idealised illusion.

Diana Scott is a character archetype familiar from Victorian novels like Daniel Deronda and Far From The Madding Crowd 
(Christie going to play Bathsheba in the latter film version also by Schlesinger). But her character, like Michael Caine’s Alfie, also perfectly embodies the heady carefree atmosphere of swinging 60s London, at a time when women were gaining sexual freedom with the arrival of the contraceptive pill, and when people were starting to sexually experiment, be more open with their sexuality (despite the fact the homosexuality was still officially illegal until 1967, the film progressively showing openly gay characters, whilst also showing the general public’s prejudice against ‘rampant homosexuals’ ), whilst rebelling against the previous generation.

The film also shows that while a freer generation a hierarchy was still very much in place, and class and wealth were still highly prized, a fact embodied in Diana.  And Schlesinger has a lot of in in lampooning the privileged class in a scene at a charity fundraiser (which Diana acts as bingo caller at), where they are shown preening and eating voraciously, whilst the charity’s founder talks about world poverty and how much they care.

Robert meanwhile holds the moral centre of the film, steadfastly sticking to Diana through thick and thin until he finally has enough of her reckless ways. Robert also has some great lines in the films such as when he tells Diana: “Your idea of fidelity is not having more than one man in bed at the same time.” And Bogarde delivers his lines with a relish that makes you remember just how good an actor he is. And the only flaw in the film is really believing that such an intelligent and charismatic man would fall for and stay for someone as superficial and careless as Diana for any real length of time. But it is a flaw that can be overlooked given what we know about irrational human behaviour when in love. And his alternate vulnerability and bitterness are expertly played by Bogarde.

So if you like your British classics with some wit, sophistication, fun as well as depth you can’t go too far wrong with this one.

 Darling is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. 

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