Diana Scott (Julie Christie) is a beautiful, bored young model married to Tony Bridges (Trevor Bowen). One day, Diana meets Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a literary interviewer/director for television arts programmes, by chance when she is spotted on the street by his roving film crew and interviewed by him about young people's views on convention. Diana is invited to watch the final edit in the TV studio and there their relationship starts. After liaisons in bleak hotel rooms they leave their spouses (and, in Robert's case, children) and move into an apartment.
As a couple, they become part of the fashionable London media/arts set. Initially, Diana is jealous when Robert sees his wife (Pauline Yates) while visiting his children, but she quickly loses this attachment when she mixes with the predatory males of the media, arts and advertising scene, particularly Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey), a powerful advertising executive for the "Glass Corporation" who gets her a part in a trashy thriller after she has sex with him. The bookish Robert prefers the quiet life; it is he who now becomes jealous, but increasingly detached, depressed and lonely.
Diana attends a high-class charity draw for world hunger for which she is the face. The event, adorned by giant images of African famine victims, is at the height of cynical hypocrisy and bad taste, showing Diana's rich white set, which now includes the establishment, playing at concern, gorging themselves, gambling and generally behaving decadently.
Already showing signs of stress from constantly maintaining the carefree look demanded by the false, empty lifestyle to which she has become a prisoner, Diana becomes pregnant, and has an abortion.
She flies to Paris with Miles for more jet-set sophistication. She finds the wild party, beat music, strip dance mind game, cross dressing and predatory males and females vaguely repellent and intimidating, but Diana holds her own, gaining the respect of the weird crowd when she taunts Miles in the game. On her return to London, Robert calls her a whore and leaves her, for which she is not emotionally prepared. Ironically, Miles casts her as "The Happiness Girl" in the Glass Corporation's advertising campaign for a chocolate firm.
On location at a palazzo near Rome, Diana smiles in her medieval/Renaissance costume and completes "The Happiness Girl" shoot. She is much taken with the beauty of the building and the landscape and gets on well with the Prince, Cesare (José Luis de Villalonga), who owns the palazzo (The Medici villa in Poggio a Caiano was used in the film). With the gay photographer Malcolm (Roland Curram) who has created her now famous look and who is the only person who has shown her any real understanding and friendship, Diana decides to stay on in Italy. They stay in a simple house by a small harbour in Capri. Diana flirts half-heartedly with Catholicism. They are visited by Cesare, who arrives in a huge launch, invites them on board and proposes to Diana. Cesare is widowed and has several children, the oldest of whom is about the same age as Diana. Diana politely declines his proposal, but Cesare leaves the offer open.
Diana returns to London, and still living in the flat she shared with Robert, has a party with Miles and other assorted media characters. Robert has aged. Soon disillusioned with Miles and the vacuous London jet set, Diana flirts with the Catholic Church again. Impulsively, she flies out to Italy and marries the Prince, which proves to be ill-considered. Though waited on hand and foot by servants, she is almost immediately abandoned in the vast palazzo by Cesare, who has gone to Rome, presumably to visit a mistress.
Diana flees to London to Robert, who, taking advantage of her emotional vulnerability, charms her into bed and into what she thinks is a stable long-term relationship. In the morning, in self-disgust, he tells her that he's leaving her and that he fooled her only as an act of revenge. He reserves a flight to Rome, packs her into his car and takes her to Heathrow airport to send her back to her life as the Princess Della Romita. At the airport, Diana is hounded by the press, who address her reverentially as Princess. She boards the plane to leave.
According to Richard Gregson, agent for John Schlesinger, the budget was around £300,000 and was entirely provided by Nat Cohen at Anglo-Amalgamated.
Shirley MacLaine was originally cast as Diana, but was replaced by Christie. Production on Darling commenced in August 1964 and wrapped in December. It was filmed on location in London, Paris, and Rome. The final scene was shot at Heathrow Airport in London.
New York in 1971 wrote of mod fashion and its wearers, "This new déclassé English girl was epitomized by Julie Christie in Darling—amoral, rootless, emotionally immature, and apparently irresistible." Despite receiving many awards at the time of release, the film has a mixed reputation now. In his New Biographical Dictionary of Film entry on Schlesinger, David Thomson writes that the film "deserves a place in every archive to show how rapidly modishness withers. Beauty is central to the cinema and Schlesinger seems an unreliable judge of it, over-rating Christie and rarely getting close enough to the action to make a fruitful stylistic bond with it". Leonard Maltin's Film Guide describes it as a "trendy, influential '60s film – in flashy form and cynical content". Tony Rayns though, in the Time Out Film Guide, is as damning as Thomson. For him, the film is a "leaden rehash of ideas from Godard, Antonioni and Bergman", although with nods to the "Royal Court school", which "now looks grotesquely pretentious and out of touch with the realities of the life-styles that it purports to represent."
The film was a commercial success, grossing $12,000,000 at the worldwide box office against a budget of only £400,000. It earned $4 million in theatrical rentals.
According to Richard Gregson, the film only earned £250,000 in Britain, but Nat Cohen sold the US rights to Joe E. Levine for $900,000 and made a profit - and the movie was a big hit in the US.
Source: "Darling". IMDb. Retrieved 5 February 2014.