Directed by John Schlesinger; Written by Frederic Raphael
“It should be so easy to be happy… I wonder why it isn’t.”
Be your own woman and they might hate you for it. Be someone else’s, you’ll risk worse, and no matter what you do, you’ll always have the gaze of men to satisfy, navigate and suffer. It’s the 60s and Diana Scott is doing it for herself, partying, dating, and bending men to her will. But even as she ascends the echelons of society, the life of a bon vivant is a poisoned chalice from which to drink full and deep.
Julia Christie is Diana Scott, beautiful, fun and defiant of convention. She pretends to blow her brains out when marriage is mentioned; She giddily takes the keys to a high-powered exec’s car and tears through London’s streets; Shoplifts ferociously in famed London grocery stores. She’s fun, above it all, and intoxicating. Diana ingratiates herself with the powerful and famous and gets a new name to show for it: Darling. A name that comes with both privileges and strings and Darling is about how tight those gilded ties can bind and what the glitter belies.
It’s also a vivid picture of a society rapidly changing. In a vox populi interview that will be her discovery, Diana tells the interviewer that she, along with her generation looks to “break away.” In Darling, that translates to sexual liberation, erosion of antiquated domestic power balances, and the dismissal of romantic norms. Schlesinger highlights those schisms in both picture and sound, with a jazzy score to accompany the soirees and eye-fucking elevator-glances, and stilted organ music for the ostentatiously gauche socials of the elites.
The subject matter begets fraught relationships, anguished choices and despairing dead-ends, and Christie lights it up, exuding reckless sexuality as well as innocent naivete, combining both hunter and prey in an alluring shape that can be hesitant debutante one moment, skilled provocateur the next.
It makes for captivating scenes of frivolity, loaded exchanges and hedonism both sensual and sexual, featuring Felliniesque party scenes and existential impasses that echo contemporary Michelangelo Antonioni. Taken together, it’s both sizzling, raucous entertainment and its natural moral hangover following close behind.