Happiness is the one thing that may elude her forever.
Model Diana Scott (Julie Christie) is searching for happiness in all the wrong places. Unsatisfied with her career, she ventures into an affair with Robert (Dirk Bogarde), a TV critic. They seem to have a dream life, but Diana decides to add some spice by entering a tryst with her boss Miles (Laurence Harvey). Robert discovers her deception and ends their affair. However, life with Miles isn't much better so she continues searching, eventually entering a marriage with an Italian prince. But Robert always remains on her mind and heart. Does he feel the same?
To be honest, Darling is not easy to like. The first hour moves at a snail's pace and some viewers will have turned it off by then. Things move much faster in the second half, and some nicely pointed satire makes it more enjoyable. The ending is unsatisfying and will have you wondering what the filmmakers were smoking when they conceived it.
Despite those criticisms, I think Darling is very much worth seeing. The first hour is slow, but the deliberate pace helps establish the banality that Diana thinks exists in her life. The key word is "thinks," since the film blurs the line between reality and fantasy and the events may all be in her mind. Or not. That's the beauty of this film.
It is a daring film for the time, featuring nudity and in-your-face sexuality practically unseen in a major motion picture in 1965. But it is also daring for its content; the very idea of a young woman going from one affair to another must have made many people upset then and it remains potent and timely today.
The film's second half is something different entirely. It aims for satire more often, particularly in an amusing chocolate commercial toward the final third. Also, a shoplifting sequence also provides some laughter. It's very uncomfortable laughter, but laughter none the same. The laughs distract us from the more serious issues for a reason: so that when they do come, the effect will be more resonant.
The film was directed by John Schlesinger, who had made a specialty of offbeat, heartfelt character studies. Some, like Sunday Bloody Sunday, lose themselves in the heavy-handedness. But his direction of Darling never falters, even when dealing with some bizarre stylish set pieces within his human drama. Working from a screenplay by Frederic Raphael, he has to shift between serious and satirical tones, sometimes in the same scene. He also gets great performances from his cast.
Julie Christie won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1965 for Darling. The award caused some controversy since the favorite had been Julie Andrews for The Sound of Music. Looking at the film 38 years later, I think the Academy made the right decision. Andrews may have the showier role, but Christie's understated, natural performance is the far superior of the two. Her performance hits all the right notes and feels real from start to finish. We may not approve of what Diana does, but we can certainly understand how and why she does what she does. This role in the hands of the wrong actress could have been a disaster, with overacting and hamminess thrown in equal measures. By restraining herself to the point of appearing nonchalant and laidback, Christie gives a great deal more insight into her character.
This was the second collaboration between Schlesinger and Christie. The first, Billy Liar (1963), is very much like Darling in execution and tone. The third and best, Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), is another romantic triangle and search for something elusive wrapped up as a beautiful widescreen epic. Try watching all three back to back and make your own comparisons.
MGM continues their hard stance against giving anamorphic enhancement to any feature with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The widescreen image looks decent for a film made in 1965 and on a low budget. Grain is present in all scenes and you will see some film artifacts such as an occasional reel mark and scratch. But overall, it looks superior to the many VHS copies that have surfaced over the past twenty years and just to own the film in widescreen makes me very happy.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix is included. The film isn't heavily scored and is rather dialogue heavy. A stereo mix would have made the dialogue a lot easier to sort through. As is, you may have to adjust your speakers accordingly if you have trouble listening to some dialogue but have no problems with other passages. A mixed bag, that much is for sure.
A theatrical trailer in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen is rather misleading, painting Darling as a comic romp, which it most certainly is not. A featurette would have been nice since the film has sparked much debate in critical circles and a few participants are still among us today.
Darling is at least worth a rental. It is a difficult film to digest and for some, one viewing will be more than enough. But for fans of British cinema and viewers who appreciate insightful, intelligent filmmaking will want to own it.
Now, please leave the courtroom and make way for the next defendant.
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