Darling (1965): Schlesinger’s Tale of Modish, Swinging London, Starring Julie Christie in Oscar Performance

London has never seemed so decadent, cynical, and immoral as it is portrayed in John Schlesinger’s 1965 Oscar-winning Darling.
And yet, looked from today’s perspective, this movie has aged poorly, grotesquely pretentious, and feeling out of touch with reality. Visually too, its flashy style and modishness seem outdated.

film poster

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

A transitional trendy and influential film of the mid-1960s, it was released after the height of the Kitchen Sink Realism School (“Look Back in Anger,” “Room at the Top,” “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”) and around the time of the new movies about swinging London, beginning with the Beatles movies like “Help.”

As written by Frederic Raphael (based on his story) and directed by Schlesinger (who also contributed to the story with producer Joseph Janni), Darling couldn’t have been made in the 1950s due to censorship problems in depicting sexual promiscuity, abortion, and homosexuality. However, decades on, the film looks tame, a bit shallow-and too much of an allegory about a life devoid of any values or morals.

Julie Christie, then 23, became an overnight sensation after winning the Best Actress Oscar for playing Diana Scott, the amoral and immoral heroine who drifts into success easily and casually–at a price.  The role was initially cast with Shirley MacLaine, who dropped out.

In the course of the plot, Diana works as a model and a bit actress, deserts her husband, and drifts through a series of affairs before settling on an empty, secluded life as a bored wife of an Italian aristocrat, learning the hard way the heavy toll of fame–and emptiness.

The movie goes out of its way to arouse the audience’s sympathy for her as rootless and immature, yet charming and irresistible.

Three men shape the lifestyle of the beautiful model Diana Scott, in addition to her boring husband, Tony Bridges (Trevor Bowen).

The first is Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a literary interviewer and director for television arts programs, who she meets by chance when she is spotted on the street by film crew and interviewed by him about young people’s views on convention. They begin an affair, and after meeting in bleak hotel rooms, they leave their spouses (and, in Robert’s case, children) and move into an apartment.

As a couple, they become part of the fashionable London arts set. Initially, Diana is jealous when Robert sees his wife (Pauline Yates) while visiting his children, but things change when she meets Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey), a powerful advertising executive for the Glass Corporation who gets her a part in a trashy thriller after having sex with him.

On location at a palazzo near Rome, Diana meets and is immediately smitten the prince Cesare (José Luis de Villalonga), who who owns the place.

Widowed, Cesare has several children, the oldest of whom is the same age as Diana. Impulsively, she marries the prince, an ill-considered decision. Though waited on by servants, she is almost immediately abandoned in the vast palazzo by Cesare, who has gone to Rome to visit a mistress.

In the end, Diana flees to Robert in London, and he seduces her, taking advantage of her emotional vulnerability. In the morning, in a mode of self-disgust and cruelty, he leaves her after telling her that he fooled her as an act of revenge. He then takes her to Heathrow airport, sending her back to her dull life as the Princess Della Romita.

Throughout, the only real attention and affection that Diana gets is from photographer Malcolm (Roland Curram), the gay artist who has created her now-famous look.

One of the film’s problems is that we get a portrait of a young woman that spans years, but despite the scope, the narrative just moves from one chapter to another without explaining much the transitions in Diana’s life.

Giving a cool, stylized performance, Julie Christie is still the main reason to see the movie. Film critics have been too harsh, I think, on the picture, and how badly it has dated over the years.

There are still merits in the detached approach of John Schlesinger, who had assembled an amazing cast for this film, including Laurence Harvey, Dirk Bogarde, Alex Scott, and Helen Lindsay.

At the time of its release, some critics like Andrew Sarris perceived Darling to be a British response to the swinging, cafe society depicted in Fellini’s much superior La Dolce Vita.

Please read our review of Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, his best-Oscar winner:

Julie Christie was discovered by John Schlesinger in 1963, when he cast her in his 1962 film, Billy Liar, starring Tom Courtenay.

Reel/Real Impact

This trendy film, with costumer Harris dressing Julie Christie in miniskirts, had a huge impact on the fashion world.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Picture, produced by Joseph Janni

Director: John Schlesinger

Story and Screenplay (Original): Frederic Raphael

Actress: Julie Christie

Costume Design (b/w): Julie Harris

Oscar Awards: 3

Story and Screenplay


Costume Design

Oscar Context

In 1965, Darling competed for the top award with another British-made film, David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago” (also starring Julie Christie, as Lara), Stanley Kramer’s pretentious drama, “Ship of Fools,” the Broadway based “A Thousand Clowns,” and the musical “The Sound of Music,” which swept most of the Oscars.

One of the youngest actresses to win the Oscar, Julie Christie moved to Hollywood and gave some distinguished performances in the 1970s, including Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” for which she earned another Oscar nomination.

Julie Christie as Diana Scott
Laurence Harvey as Miles Brand
Dirk Bogarde as Robert Gold
José Luis de Villalonga as Prince Cesare della Romita (as Jose Luis De Villalonga)
Roland Curram as Malcolm
Basil Henson as Alec Prosser-Jones
Helen Lindsay as Felicity Prosser-Jones
Carlo Palmucci as Curzio della Romita
Dante Posani as Gino
Umberto Raho as Palucci
Marika Rivera as Woman
Alex Scott as Sean Martin
Ernest Walder as Kurt
Brian Wilde as Willett
Pauline Yates as Estelle Gold
Peter Bayliss as Lord Grant
Richard Bidlake as Rupert Crabtree
T.B. Bowen as Tony Bridges (as Trevor Nowen)
Annette Carell as Billie Castiglione
Jean Claudio as Raoul Maxim
Georgina Cookson as Carlotta Hale
James Cossins as Basildon

Directed by John Schlesinger
Produced by Joseph Janni
Screenplay by Frederic Raphael, based on an idea by Raphael, Schlesinger, and Janni
Music by John Dankworth
Cinematography Kenneth Higgins
Edited by James Clark
Distributed by Anglo-Amalgamated (UK); Embassy Pictures (US)
Release date: August 3, 1965 (New York); September 16, 1965 (UK)
Running time 127 minutes
Budget £300,000 (about $1.1 million)
Box office $4,000,000 (rentals)