‘Darling’ – A Review

Chic, even in woolly socks….

A contemporary interpretation of the style aesthetic of the 1960s is all around us at the moment, courtesy, probably, of the popularity of Mad Men, so when Lovefilm suggested that I might like Darling, made in the 1965, I gave it a go.

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of it before, but the cast and creative lists are packed with names that suggested it would be worth watching.  It stars Julie Christie, who won an Oscar for her performance, Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey, three of my favourites from black and white films of that period; it was written by Frederic Raphael (another Oscar win, for best original screenplay), and directed by John Schlesinger.

The story of a bored and amoral fashion model who sleeps her way to the top, casting aside her men along the way until she achieves the highest social rank, which she discovers is not all she’d hoped it would be, Darling is both fascinating for how relevant some of its themes remain, and how differently the story might end if it were set now.

The tale of the search for ephemeral and vacuous celebrity, the desire simply to be famous, is as sharply relevant today as it was then; the manipulation of the people who will be the stepping stones on her inexorable rise through the ranks is probably unchanged.  The style aesthetic, especially of the super chic geometrically designed office in which Laurence Harvey’s ad executive works, has been lifted wholesale into contemporary television.  It’s in black and white in the film, but the straight lines of furniture, curtains and blinds are exactly the same as in Don Draper’s office in Mad Men.

The exterior shots are less stylish.  In the city they are surrounded by the buildings which would have been new at the time, those ugly square blocks that we have since demolished.  It reminded me of the blocks that lined London Wall when I first came to London, poorly ventilated,not well constructed, and already shabby even though most of them were only 20 years old, they’ve all been demolished in the last 30 years to be replaced by shinier, curvier ones.

It may not surprise you to know that one of the things that struck me most forcibly about the film was something trivial, in a sequence where the Julie Christie character is taken to an achingly trendy party in Paris, where the guests start to take their clothes off and dance in front of a psychedelic projection on the wall.  The scene was played in a mixture of French and English, but no effort was made to translate the French; no subtitles, no repeating the same thing in English.  How different now, when even accented English is sometimes given subtitles to relieve the viewer of the obligation of listening properly.

I think, if written now, the film could have the same moral outcome, but narratively, would have to have a different ending.  The protagonist doesn’t get what she really wants, and is trapped in a situation from which, for the first time, she is unable to escape; but in the 60s this was dramatised through the lack of status of a married woman, dependent on her husband with few financial rights.

If you get a chance to see it, I recommend this one.

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  1. I think I’ll watch this one.


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