Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965)

Quite a tough one to watch , this one, because I can’t quite recall any film so relentlessly portraying such an unlikeable anti-heroine, a black satire surely against the ‘Princess Grace of Monaco’ fairy story. We hear Julie Christie’s Diana giving a magazine interview reflecting on her life, and this acts as an ironic voice-over as the on-screen depiction of these events reveals her as a self-serving unreliable narrator. Always indulged, even as a child (she is forever being referred to, unironically, as ‘Darling’ throughout the film), she enters the world of modelling through interviewer Robert (Dirk Bogarde) and they set up home together, each abandoning their respective spouses, and he his children, until Diana gets the opportunity to ‘trade up’ to younger, wealthier Miles ( a wonderfully cool and malicious turn from Laurence Harvey). Always seeing herself as the ‘reasonable’ one, Diana is utterly unlikeable but there is no sense of an impending doom approaching, since the interview we heard at the very opening shot (as Diana’s face is plastered on top of a ‘War on Want’ poster, a recurring theme) was just as fawning as the action we see unfold as a retrospective.

As Diana progresses through ‘hip’ London society, we see her bluffing her way through, and we expect exposure which never seems to come, as people indulge her bullshit – beautiful people rarely get challenged on outrageous claims and behaviour, it seems. And, when she finds her relationships don’t always go the way she wants, it’s only because she is so fickle and needy, trying to have everything without regard to the feelings of others. The only times anyone challenges her are when they find out about her misdemeanors against themselves and take her to task about them – which will always turn out to somehow be their own fault, when Diana is forced to confront them. There can’t be too many films where it’s so clear that the lead character deserves a ‘comeuppance’ but seems likely to largely get away with it. Given the voiceover at the beginning, we know that Diana’s position in society is still going to be pretty assured at the end. Any retribution coming to her will have to be something secret to herself.

It would be interesting to know if the film was any more or less shocking at the time of release as it is now. In pre-1960s Britain, Diana’s acts would be simply ‘not the done thing’, a breach of the rules, whereas now we see them as unacceptably vain and selfish. But, in the ‘swinging ’60’s’? I wonder…


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