Diana Scott (Julie Christie), as she once was, is being interviewed for a look back on her glittering career now she is in semi-retirement. She starts at the beginning, remembering her childhood and the belief of all those who watched her grow up that she was destined for great things: they called her Darling and the name stuck. That career actually began when she was interviewed in the street by television journalist and arts correspondent Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde) who was seeking vox pops and became entranced with Diana even though he was a married man...
And so began Diana's steady journey to fame, wealth and eventual loneliness in one of the bitterest of the Swinging Sixties movies, possibly the most typical of the lot as far as the British version went as they were forever searching for the downside of the fashionable and hedonistic, something they were so effective at exposing that the chic of Britain wore off by the seventies' cultural hangover. Before that, if director John Schlesinger, working from Frederick Raphael's screenplay, had not been putting the final nails in the coffin he was at least knocking the first few in, adopting the object of romantic desire from his previous film Billy Liar and taking her down a peg or two. Or more.
Not that Christie was playing the same role, but such was the bleakness of this film's tone that there was very little to appreciate beyond its surface gloss. It had been a very cheap production with corners cut and budgets scraped together, with for instance co-star Laurence Harvey unable to be paid and taking a percentage of the profits instead, which proved a very wise move when it became the worldwide success it did. Not that Harvey reaped any rewards other than financial, and you could argue Bogarde was overshadowed as well for there was a new star in the cinematic firmament, and she was Julie Christie. Acting in public like she couldn't believe her luck, on screen she was luminous.
Even in a production such as this where you found it hard to accept that the filmmakers actually liked any of the characters they depicted whatsoever, so dedicated were they to cutting them down to size. So accomplished was Christie, whether thanks to her innate talent or through Schlesinger's ability to show her off at her best, that it was almost possible to overlook Diana's selfishness and feel sorry for her when she becomes a bird trapped in a gilded cage of her own ambition. She gets what she wanted, and it's not enough, in fact it's a prison and one she has to live with for the rest of her life - the notion that we were indeed intended to think it was a shame for her was scuppered by the manner in which both writer and director practically wallowed in Diana's predicament.
They were a mite warmer towards Robert, as if he were a fly caught in his mistress's web, but there was a moralistic tone to Darling which belied its enthusiasm in depicting how the other half lived, and as Robert has left his wife and children behind he must be punished according to this. There were a bunch of sequences which illustrated how Diana was becoming more wrapped up in the poisonous decadence of her new lifestyle as her modelling career takes off, and even then the movie lampoons her by putting her in films where she has a one scene role as a murder victim or whatever, all of which is leading up to the most appropriate denouement this thinks possible. Given Schlesinger was gay, some like to read subtexts into the work here, but sometimes what you saw was what you got: he had this character he wanted to excoriate and dismantle the spirit of the age into the bargain. Some like to parallel Diana's conclusion to Princess Grace of Monaco or even Princess Diana of Wales, the mark of a resonant, mean-minded work. Music by Johnny Dankworth.