After a little break - i'm back blogging! A couple of months after launching my blog, I had a pretty awful time and unfortunately, didn't have the time or mind-space to get writing - however, i'm back with fresh motivation and lots of things to talk about and it's just about time I got this 'Influential Female Film Characters' series done & dusted, don't you think?! So here we go...
If the 1960’s was an Empire, Julie Christie would be the Queen. I’ve already expressed my admiration for sixties cinema in my discussion of Sheilagh Delaney’s ‘A Taste of Honey’. In terms of art, film and fashion; the 1960’s creatively surpassed and challenged everything that had been seen, heard or felt before it. Screenwriting was progressive, honest and assertive and with the advocacy and attitude of the free cinema movement, filmmakers like Jack Clayton, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson confidently produced films which shed commercial appeal and provided some of the most timeless examples of authentic filmmaking.
At the age of eleven, I had my first encounter with British New Wave. John Schlesinger’s ‘Billy Liar’ (1963) was like nothing I’d seen before. It was dull, mundane and totally captivating – I think perhaps the inclusion of my local dialect, made it quite the novelty but despite the sluggish setting and mature, domestic themes - it had great appeal. Tom Courtenay’s performance as ‘Billy’ validated him as a kitchen-sink superstar but it was his co-star, Julie Christie, embarking on her first role as ‘Liz’ which made the film so personally memorable. As one of the three women that Billy was stringing along, it was refreshing to see a female character who was so stubborn, driven and unafraid. The ‘angry young man’ archetype, had almost met his match.
Tom Courtenay & Julie Christie in John Schlesinger's Billy Liar (1963) - adapted from Keith Waterhouse's 1959 novel of the same title.
The character of Liz provided a fitting insight into the robust roles, Christie would continue to address and a few years after my introduction to ‘Billy Liar’, I discovered John Schlesinger’s later success, ‘Darling’ (1965). Julie Christie received her first Oscar for the role of Diana Scott – a beautiful socialite, who cavorts her way to the top of London’s socially elite. It wasn’t until a few years after I first watched Darling, that I really learnt to appreciate it. Schlesinger’s screenplay is packed with satire, exposing the unsightly conforms of the rich and successful through the self-indulgent and obsessive, Diana Scott.
On the surface, Scott is superficial and at times, completely shameless. She uses sex as a facilitator in a bid to climb the highest ranks of the swinging hierarchy and pins happiness to false, vacant dreams. Her character is indoctrinated in the lifeless traditions of the affluent and aristocracy - indulging in all the taboos of a Hollywood starlet. So, how can a character with such ugly traits be considered so influential?
Julie Christie as Diana Scott in John Schlesinger's award-winning, Darling (1965)
By 1969, audiences had witnessed the beauty of Audrey Hepburn and the elegance of Grace Kelly. Women in film were sophisticated and intelligent but where they ever authentic? With the introduction of new wave and the refreshing social shift, brought about by the baby boomers, intricate female characters with human qualities stepped to the forefront of mainstream film. These women were embraced as contemporary examples of women who had voice and volume. Diana Scott was beautiful and glamorous but equally selfish and unkind. Her character ruthlessly tackles traditions, recklessly balancing between contentment and unhappiness. Schlesinger leads us to question and critic her integrity.
Above all, Diana Scott is faulty, flawed and faithful to the human qualities in all of us. Her lust, greed, jealousy and narcissism are all a little exaggerated but at least they’re present – and for that, I respect Julie Christie’s representation of Diana Scott to be a real diamond in the rough.