In my previous post, I talked about Ship of Fools, a film that was nominated for best picture of 1965. As I pointed out in that post, when watched today, it’s difficult to imagine Ship of Fools as being worthy of that honor. However, there was another melodrama nominated for best picture in 1965. It not only clearly deserved that nomination but it probably should have won as well. That movie is a personal favorite of mine, the brilliant British film, Darling.
In Darling, the beautiful and glamorous Diana Scott (played, in an Oscar-winning performance, by Julie Christie) tells us her life story, with the events on screen occasionally standing in contrast to the tone of her narration. We learn how Diana went from being a somewhat successful model to being one of the most famous women in the world, a woman whose life is lived and obsessed over in three separate countries.
In England, Diana leaves her first husband for Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a writer who also abandons his family so that he can be with Diana. They live in a dreary apartment and, over the course of one brilliant montage, we watch as Diana becomes increasingly disillusioned by Robert’s secluded lifestyle and Robert grows progressively annoyed with Diana’s hyperactivity. Even being chosen to be the face of a world hunger charity organization fails to relieve Diana’s boredom. (It does, however, give the film a chance to include a sharply satiric scene in which a bunch of rich white people socialize underneath pictures of starving African children.) Diana soon starts to find excuses to leave the apartment and pursue an affair with the hedonistic advertising executive Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey). In one of the film’s best scenes, Schlesinger shows us how long Diana and Miles have spent in a hotel room by focusing his camera not on the two of them but instead on the expiring parking meter outside.
In France, Diana and Miles take part in wild parties that involve lots of cross-dressing, stripping, mind games, and predatory members of the social and media elite. Diana is initially uneasy with this group of friends and it’s obvious that they have little respect for her. However, that starts to change when Diana takes advantage of one of the party games to mock Miles for being unable to truly love anyone but himself. Despite this, Miles still arranges for the disillusioned Diana to be selected as “The Happiness Girl” for the advertising campaign for a chocolate company.
In Italy, Diana’s best friend is Malcolm (Roland Curram) who is both her photographer and, as a gay man, is one of the few people in her life that Diana feels that she can trust. It’s also in Italy that Diana meets a charming nobleman named Prince Cesare (Jose Luis de Vilallonga), who offers Diana a chance to become none other than Princess Diana, on the condition that Diana convert to Catholicism and that she help raise his nine children, the oldest of whom is the same age as Diana.
To be honest, it’s difficult for me to provide a rational or balanced review of Darling because I simply love this film so much! I love it for the glamour, I love it for the melodrama, and I especially love it for its sharply satiric (and still very relevant) look at what it means to be famous for merely living. I suppose that it would only be natural to compare Darling to the world’s current obsession with the Khardashians but that’s not really fair to Darling. The Khardashians may be the natural end result of a world that obsesses over Diana Scott but, as played by Julie Christie, Diana Scott is everything — intelligent, witty, interesting, and, if not quite sympathetic, at least compelling — that a Khardashian could never hope to be.
In 1965, the Sound of Music won the award for best picture of the year but Darling is truly the movie that still has something to say about the way that we’re living today.