Movie Stars: Christie, Julie–Erratic, Amazing Career (Darling, Shampoo, Away from Her)

Between 1965 and 1975, the beautiful British-born Julie Christie was one of the most gifted and riveting screen presences to behold.
Blessed with mesmerizing (but not perfect) beauty and a face born for the camera with its angular lines (sharp nose) and sensual, meaty lips, Christie combined the qualities of a great actress, popular star, and sex symbol, not to mention her status in the 1960s as an icon of the new, swinging London.
Crucial Decade
What a fabulous and diverse career? During that crucial decade, Christies has worked with the best directors in the world: John Schlesinger (“Darling”), Richard Lester (“Petulia”), Nicholas Roeg (“Don’t Look Now”), Joseph Losey (“The Go-Between”), Robert Altman (“McCabe and Mrs. Miller”), Truffaut (“Fahrenheit 411”), Warren Beatty (“Shampoo”).
Four Oscar Nominations
Christie won the Best Actress Oscar for her very first nomination, “Darling,” in 1965, at age 25. She then received three more nominations, always in the lead category, for Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” in 1971, 26 years later for Alan Rudolph’s “Afterglow,” in 1997, and most recently in 2007, for Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her.” Four nominations and one Oscar in a period of 42 years attests to a long, productive, and creative career—especially for actresses.
Spectacular Beginnings
Arguably the most genuinely glamorous, and one of the most intelligent, of all British stars, Julie Christie brought a gust of new, sensual life into British cinema when she swung insouciantly down a drab northern street in John Schlesinger’s “Billy Liar” (1963).
It was not her first film, though.
Trained for the stage at Central School, after an Indian childhood and English education, she first became known as the artificially created girl in TV’s “A for Andromeda” (1961), at the young age of 19. She then made her film debut in 1962 in two amusing, lightweight comedies directed by Ken Annakin, “Crooks Anonymous” and “The Fast Lady.”
Not neglecting her origins, Christie performed a number of seasons at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Darling: The Turning Point
John Schlesinger cast her as the silly, superficial, morally threadbare Diana in “Darling” (1965), for which she won the Best Actress Oscar, the British Academy Award and New York Critics’ award, and which is now powerfully resonant of its period.
Schlesinger again cast her as Thomas Hardy’s willful Bathsheba in “Far From the Maddening Crowd” (1967), with other 1960s icons, Terence Stamp (known for “The Collector”) and Alan Bates (“Women in Love,” among many accomplishments).
In the same year she made “Darling,” Christie played Lara in David Lean’s romantic historical epic “Doctor Zhivago,” which was an international, Oscar-winning blockbuster, again proving that the color cameras simply adored her.
Notwithstanding her beauty, she continued to make the running as a serious actress in demanding films such as Joseph Losey’s masterpiece, “The Go-Between” (1971), as the bored upper-class woman who destroys a boy’s life by involving him in her sexual duplicities.
In Nicolas Roeg’s mesmerizing and hypnotic thriller, “Don’t Look Now”, 1973), she made a strong impression, including a famously strange and erotic love scenes with Donald Sutherland, who played her husband.
She then appeared in “Uncle Vanya” on Broadway, directed by Mike Nichols. This was followed with three American films opposite Warren Beatty, her lover at the time. In Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), as a tough Cockney madame out West, (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), the poignant social satire,”Shampoo” (1975) and the comedy “Heaven Can Wait” (1978).
Though she still was greatly in demand, Christie became choosier about her roles as her own political awareness increased. This “feminist” phase lasted for about a decade. There was a “price to be paid. Most of her films in the 1980s, such as “Memoirs of a Survivor” (directed by David Gladwell, 1980) and the documentary “The Animals Film” (helmed by Victor Schonfeld, 1981), and “The Gold Diggers” (1984), Sally Potter’s feminist take on several Hollywood genres, were seen by few people; some have not even received a legit theatrical release in America.
However, the talent and the beauty remained undimmed in such small-budget, art British films as “Return of the Soldier” (by Alan Bridges, 1982). In Kenneth Branagh’s version of “Hamlet” (1966), she played Gertrude to great acclaim.
In 1995, she returned to the stage in a revival of Harold Pinter’s “Old Times,” directed by Lindy Davies to laudatory reviews. Then, in 1997, she made a bigger comeback in the romantic melodrama, “Afterglow, directed by Alan Rudolph and co-starring with Nick Nolte, for which she was Oscar-nominated.
Challenging Roles
Christie’s last great role was in 2007, in Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her,” in which she gave a subtle, understated, multi-layered performance as a long-time married woman diagnosed with Alzheimer. An adaptation of the author Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the film is a beautifully acted love story about memory and its circuitous, enigmatic paths over the course of one durable union. 
At 69 (she was born in April 1941), Julie Christie is still beautiful and full of surprises as an actress. According to various reports, she will next appear on screen as the aging hemophiliac wife of a young vampire in “Hello Darkness,” and as a “sexy, bohemian” version of the grandmother role in Catherine Hardwicke’s’s gothic retelling of “Red Riding Hood.”