Radio disc jockey Godfrey Winn presented the basic story line to Schlesinger and producer Joseph Janni during a luncheon. Winn (who makes a cameo appearance as himself in Schlesinger's Billy Liar, 1963) knew a model who became the shared mistress of several men. But shortly after she was set up in a luxurious flat by her "sponsors," she committed suicide. After Winn turned in a rough, ten-page draft of his story to Schlesinger, the director turned it over to novelist/screenwriter Frederic Raphael for scripting. In John Schlesinger by Gene D. Phillips, the director said, "We started with the idea of the ghastliness of the present-day attitude of people who want something for nothing. Diana Scott, the principal character, emerged in the script of Darling as an amalgram of various people we had known." Despite the fact that Schlesinger and Raphael had several major disagreements over the eighteen months it took to produce a satisfactory screenplay, the final result justified their efforts and won Raphael an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
Julie Christie, who had previously played a small part in Schlesinger's Billy Liar, was not the first choice for the title role but Schlesinger eventually auditioned her for the part after flying to Philadelphia where she was touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Convinced that Christie could project the perfect combination of charm and bitchiness for the part, he hired her and turned to filling the role of Robert Gold, an American columnist who falls in love with Diana. Montgomery Clift was Schlesinger's first choice, but after meeting the actor he realized Clift was an emotional wreck and too ravaged by drugs and alcohol to handle working. Paul Newman and Cliff Robertson were also offered the role (both declined) and then Schlesinger pleaded with Dirk Bogarde to accept the role, reshaping his character into a BBC interviewer and columnist.
In his autobiography, Snakes and Ladders, Dirk Bogarde recalls the making of Darling: "It was a very happy film although, predictably, we ran out of money halfway through and no one really believed in it except for the people who were actually involved in it. Joseph Janni, our producer, came sadly into my room one evening at the end of work. Face putty, his eyes hooped with fatigue. 'Disaster,' he muttered sitting dejectedly on the arm of a chair. 'I've mortgaged everything: car, flat, stocks and shares, everything except Stella, my wife. Can you help us? Will you accept a cut in salary and defer your deferments?' The reluctant backers sat glumly through the daily rushes; no big American name, an unknown girl and an, almost, unknown director. They also thought the story was, in the good old Wardour Street word, down beat. Anything that didn't have a happy ending had to be down beat. But the news had spread that something remarkable was happening on Darling. David Lean, at that time casting his epic of Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago asked to see film on both Julie and myself...In the event she won the Oscar for Darling, the little film, and rocketed to stardom in Hollywood. All she ever got out of "Zhivago", as far as I know, was a theme song."
Although Bogarde's excellent performance in Darling was ignored at Oscar time, he did receive a British Film Academy Award for his work. Darling, in addition to winning Oscars for Julie Christie and screenwriter Frederic Raphael, also received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Costume Design by Julie Harris (who won in this category).
Director: John Schlesinger
Producer: Joseph Janni, Victor Lyndon (associate)
Screenplay: Frederic Raphael
Cinematography: Kenneth Higgins
Music: John Dankworth
Art Direction: Ray Simm
Principle Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Robert Gold), Laurence Harvey (Miles Brand), Julie Christie (Diana Scott), Jose Luis de Villalonga (Cesare), Roland Curram (Malcom), Basil Henson (Alec Prosser-Jones)
BW-127m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford