Darling is a curious movie, almost interesting for those movies that it isn’t than the one that it is. The movies that it isn’t include two vertiginous London portrayals: Repulsion (1965) and Blow Up (1966), as well as Accident (1967). Also Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), not to mention Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Indeed, with its Paris and Capri sequences, this is a film that seems to aspire towards a European sensibility, something the occasional freeze frame and ambitious tracking shot reinforces.
However, there’s an uneasiness to the whole melange, as though the director and screenwriter’s thematic and stylistic ambitions don’t quite marry. In part, one suspects, this is because there’s a timidity surrounding the protagonist, Julie Christie’s Diana. Diana, her erstwhile boyfriend, Robert, (played by Dirk Bogarde with his usual judicious flair), says, is a whore, someone who has slept her way to the top. But Christie is far too homely to really convince in this role. Christie is as luminous as ever, and any moral doubts we might have regarding her behaviour are never given room to flower. She doesn’t have the vulnerability of Deneuve in Repulsion either, we never really worry she’s about to go off the rails.
However, given that this is a flawed film, it’s still fascinating to observe the scope of the movie’s ambition. It’s not hard to see how a script like this would nowadays be shepherded straight off to the TV execs, to turn into a series. Which on one level makes sense: this is a film trying to package a raft of narrative which it doesn’t quite pull off; but on the other hand it reminds us of cinema’s capacity to investigate not just a sector of society, but the whole raging caboodle. In which sense, one suspects that Schlesinger’s greatest influence might have been Fellini, a filmmaker who successfully used the medium to offer panoramic views of his psycho-sexual-social environment. These kind of films just don’t get made any more in the UK (I can’t think of any). Which seems a pity: we have the stars; we have the technical resources; we have the screenwriters… maybe we don’t have the audiences? Or maybe that kind of overarching remit is no longer relevant to the localised issues that British cinema seeks to address.