Darling is beautiful. Darling is always moving, one delicately arched foot is placed after the other, she walks into triumphs that look like disasters and runs into disasters that look like triumphs. Darling is a butterfly with no theory for the chaos she creates.
Darling is Diana Scott. You can see how well her nickname fits in her first scene, she crosses a London road, swinging her handbag, careless and carefree and then she smiles and her face beams, radiates new light.
Christine Geraghty's essay "Women and 60s Cinema: The Development of the 'Darling' Girl" studies Diana Scott as a cautionary tale. Geraghty understands her as an example of the evolution of youth culture, from 1950s to 1960s, from working class to middle class, from delinquent girls happy to be led astray, to young ladies in control of their behaviour and pleasure.
Darling's confidence and the locus of her strength is her sexuality, she invokes sense memories of the Profumo Affair, she is a young woman dallying in social circles with a power that powerful men can't seem to resist.
Darling is not a role model but a regular model, the Honeyglow girl with warm eyes and a calm smile, the rest of her bubbles with recklessness. She is too aimless to be someone to look up to, her ambition is ambition itself. At 5 years old a stranger watching her in a school play outlines her fate, [to her mother] "You must be very proud of her Mrs Scott? She is Darling. She is going to go a long way, you can see that" and she does, she travels, she climbs.
Director John Schlesinger doesn't make it easy for us to like Diana Scott, her light narration is juxtaposed with harsh and often hypocritical actions. She talks of how she would never have dreamed of breaking up a marriage and that she always thought of families as "unbustable".
Just as we see her stalking the man she fancies and his wife and children from a payphone across the road from their house, she appears to be scheming something. After he has left his family and is living with her she narrates that she is not and has never been jealous of his children, this is followed by an argument started because she believes he is spending too much time with them.
Darling refuses to be grounded. Not by the love of her first husband. Nor the admiration of the copacetic Robert Gold a TV journalist and writer, a serious man, the person who knows her best. She isn't satisfied by professional success.
She isn't connected to her family and is decidedly uninterested in starting one. [On thinking about being pregnant] "It seemed lovely. But then I realised it was going to be the ruination of my career, messing up people's lives, mine, Robert's everybody's..."Darling never knows what she has until it isn't hers anymore. Her life's philosophy can be summed up in this short conversation with Miles Brand, an advertising executive she sleeps with out of professional concern and boredom:
Diana: I always feel as if there is one more corner to turn and then I'll be there.
Miles: And so you will.
Diana: Then they'll be another.
Miles: That's the attraction of corners.
Darling is a symbol of a time of increasing fragmentation, she is a mess of progressive feminine energy and shallow desire in a 60s London that is beginning to swing.
I love Darling because, although she always plays games, I appreciate that they are women's games. I am a young woman growing rapidly, mature femininity is a thing I am increasingly aware that I should be putting on. But when I do it doesn't fit quite right, it feels like shoes that are too big or someone else's coat. I like watching Darling wear her grown-up femininity, it is tailored at the waist, hemmed just so below the knee.
Though Julie Christie won the Best Actress Oscar in 1965 for playing Diana Scott, the film has not aged well in popular critical opinion. It has been noted as derivative of more interesting things happening in cinema at roughly the same time. '[The] direction is a leaden rehash of ideas from Godard, Antonioni and Bergman...' This is not apparent to me because I have such an affection for Schlesinger's early work specifically and films that exist in the cannon of British New Wave cinema generally.
I am a first generation Black Brit, Britishness is something I am obsessed with. I am one of those in-between people, y'know, I stand here and I stand there, so really I stand nowhere. My legs are spread bent, my arms are perpendicular clumsy, I often do not 'belong'. British cinema has been my constant, has informed me, helped me understand and adore the country and culture I was born into. I wholeheartedly appreciate British films and writing about them makes me feel as though I'm making good on a promise to an old and trusted friend.
Schlesinger's strength is in reminding an audience how big the world is in small ways. He does this without preaching or speaking too loudly or becoming wearying. In Darling he comments on race with three black boys silently serving guests at the 'World Hunger Draw' charity event. They are part of this swinging 60s increasingly global London but separate from the upward mobility of it.
Schlesinger comments on inequality with a lady tiredly eating crackers at the charity's poker table while talk of "the humiliation, degradation, shame of the agonies of malnutrition" is going on all around her.
He comments on the decadence and privilege that has come to define the age with a parlour game played in a Parisian apartment. Men and women tease and dress up as each other, feelings are not important, neither is meaning.
Darling is put together so well, its details make me feel cozy. I appreciate Schlesinger's playful use of sound, the bellowing church organs when we're taken into hallowed high-end surroundings, the paintings that scream, the sarcastic xylophones. The film is cut quickly, jauntily, upbeat, to be keep pace with this new world that is fast moving and characterised by its impermanence.
I appreciate the way Dirk Bogarde's face is shot, bright and sturdy from every angle, the face of a man you'd trust to take you far.
By contrast light is only attracted to one side of Laurence Harvey's visage at a time, he shifts handsomely in and out of his own shadow, warning you that he is fun but unreliable.
I appreciate Schlesinger's and writer Frederic Raphael's senses of humour. Schlesinger takes a dig at his work when he lets a walk on character riff that there is "no one in England to beat these new French directors".
Raphael writes a fun scene that speaks wonderfully of the closeup absurdity of a comfortable middle-class marriage, it is hard to describe other than to say the words "Alec, you've got your elbow somehow" manage to make too much sense, evoke sympathy, and be very, very amusing.
I think of Diana Scott not as an archetype but as a quality present in all modern women. When I watch Darling I am reminded of all the selves that can exist in one life. I am encouraged to walk forward with my hips tucked under. I am reassured that as darling as it is to want more of everything, there is a charm in knowing and loving what you've got.