"Darling" is a good example of that short-lived genre, the "Swinging
London" film of the sixties. ("Georgy Girl" and "Blow-Up" are others
that come to mind). The film is among London's high society, not
Society in the traditional aristocratic sense but the new high society
of the up-and-coming class of the era, the celebritocracy of film and
television personalities, of pop and sports stars, of fashion models
and photographers. "Blow-Up" was set in the same social milieu, but
whereas Antonioni's film was concerned with more philosophical issues,
"Darling" is a social satire.
The central character is Diana Scott, a glamorous young fashion model,
and the film follows her complicated love life as she seduces one
powerful lover after another in an attempt to sleep her way to the top.
She abandons her young husband, Tony, for Robert Gold, an influential
television journalist, causing the break-up of his own marriage.
(Robert's surname is clearly intended to have a symbolic significance,
emphasising that Diana is a gold-digger). Diana then moves on to Miles
Brand, a film producer who offers her more in the way of advantages
than Robert, and ends up marrying Cesare, an Italian prince. Feeling
trapped in an unhappy marriage, Diana attempts to return to England and
to Robert, only to find that he no longer wants her. (The film's
references to a "Princess Diana", unhappily married to an older man,
have in recent years taken on a resonance they did not have in 1965).
Another reviewer has commented that whereas most satirical films have
attacked authority figures or the traditional Establishment, the satire
in "Darling" is aimed at the swinging jet-set themselves. (British
literature has a long tradition of satire written from a conservative
viewpoint, from John Dryden and Alexander Pope to Evelyn Waugh and
Michael Wharton, but there does not appear to be a similar tradition in
the cinema). For most of the film Diana seems cold, heartless and
amoral; only at the end, after the failures of her marriage to Cesare
and of her attempted reconciliation with Robert, does she show any
sincere emotion. The other members of the celebritocracy that we see,
with the partial exception of Robert, are equally shallow, selfish and
given over to the pursuit of pleasure and self-interest. Cesare himself
represents older, traditional values; the Italy that we see here is not
the "Dolce Vita" world of Fellini and Antonioni but an older world of
reserved, gentlemanly, Anglophile aristocrats. Cesare speaks a courtly,
old-fashioned English, dresses like an English country gentleman and
has decorated his palazzo in the style of an English stately home.
Perhaps the fact that he is a foreigner has prevented Diana from
realising what a conservative figure he is; given their completely
different sets of values, the failure of their marriage comes as no
Julie Christie's Oscar for her role as Diana was in my view well
deserved, but it seems to have come as something of a surprise, as
Julie Andrews was expected to take the award for her role in "The Sound
of Music". Certainly, "The Sound of Music", sentimental, warm-hearted
and advocating family values, is the sort of film that the Academy have
traditionally favoured. "Darling", by contrast, is an example of what
in the sixties was a newer style of film-making: cool, deliberate and
unemotional, taking a clear, cold-eyed look at society. (Another
British film in this style is "Get Carter" from a few years later,
which subjected the criminal underworld- a subject which in films is
often glamorised or mythologised- to a similar scrutiny). Besides
Christie, there is also a very good performance from Dirk Bogarde as
A term which is sometimes used about this film is "dated". Certainly,
some of its aspects- the fashions, hairstyles, cars and slang of the
sixties- have now all passed into history. It was among the last of the
mainstream movies to be made in black and white, which in itself gives
it an old-fashioned look to the modern generation, although in the
sixties the photography was no doubt seen as crisp, clean and stylish.
A modern film on a similar subject would doubtless be made in colour
with more explicit sex scenes; references to matters such as
homosexuality (it is implied that a photographer who befriends Diana is
gay) and drug-taking would be more overt.
The subject-matter of the film, however, does not seem dated at all.
Our own era has an even more all-pervasive cult of celebrity than did
the sixties. Indeed, the very concept of celebrity has been debased.
Whatever else it may have been, the celebritocracy of the sixties, the
world of the likes of Terence Stamp, David Bailey, Jean Shrimpton,
George Best, the Beatles and Julie Christie herself, was a meritocracy
of talent, style and beauty. Today, television and the tabloid press
are obsessed with the doings of people who have no greater claim to
fame than being the ex-wife of a retired footballer, or a topless
model, or someone who once took part in a "reality" TV programme. A
modern remake of "Darling" might make for some interesting viewing.