If a gun was put to my head and I was asked to name one scene from a film that summed up the phrase ‘the swinging sixties’, in my top five would be the shot of the actress Julie Christie, playing the part of Liz, skipping along the pavement in the 1963 film ‘Billy Liar.’
That glimpse seems to embody the freedom (for some) that decade made available. She appears to not have a care in the world, and very much the epitome of an ‘It’ girl.
Christie herself was of course beautiful to look at, but you the viewer always knew there was more depth to her than just that. This all became obvious as her career went from strength to strength in the mid to late 60s, when she won the best actress Oscar, but also in her later work, which included carefully selected roles that interested her first and foremost as a person in her own right.
She was born in India in April 1940 on a tea plantation, where her father Frank, worked. He and her mother Rosemary separated not long after Julie’s birth and she returned to England. After a troubled schooling, she turned to acting as a profession and gained a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Early work was on the stage from 1957 and also on TV, as well as gaining small parts in British film comedies. And then came the aforementioned role as Liz opposite Tom Courtenay’s Billy.
Her small but perfectly formed role quickly gained the attention of the industry and public alike. Indeed it earned a Bafta nomination.
Director John Schlesinger cast her in his 1965 film ‘Darling’ as Diana Scott a morally bankrupt model who sleeps her way up and through to the top of the profession. She was awarded the best actress Oscar for the role, as the film also picked up many other awards at various festivals that year including the Baftas.
From the same year, she starred as Lara in the epic tale ‘Doctor Zhivago’. The film was a box office sensation and remains in the top ten of highest grossing films of all time.
No wonder Life Magazine dubbed 1965, the year of Julie Christie.
In 1966 she played a dual role in Truffaut’s only film in English ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and teamed up again with John Schlesinger in1967 for his adaption of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’ She dated her co-star Terence Stamp for a while and they became the golden couple of the 1960s – ‘Terry meets Julie, Waterloo station, every Friday night’ – and all that…
She then moved to Los Angeles later that year – ‘I was there because of a lot of American boyfriends’ she said – and starred in roles including ‘Petulia’ from 1968 directed by Richard Lester.
She was romantically linked with actor Warren Betty and co-starred with him in Robert Altman’s ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller in 1971, which earned her another Oscar nomination and later ‘Shampoo’ and ‘Heaven Can Wait’ in 1975 and 1978 respectively.
In between, she starred in Nic Roeg’s horror thriller ‘Don’t Look Now ‘ in 1973 alongside Donald Sutherland, in a film that is often cited as the greatest British film of all time.
Christie then began to take a backward step from the film world from 1977, returning to live on a remote farm in Wales.
She did work intermittently in the early 80s, in films like ‘Heat and Dust’ but in general appeared in smaller art house films.
She played ‘Gertrude’ in Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of ‘Hamlet’ and then received her 3rd Oscar nomination in 1997 for the film ‘Afterglow.’
2004 saw her make a cameo appearance in the Harry Potter film ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’, ‘Troy’ with Brad Pitt and ‘Finding Neverland.’
A later role that won her great acclaim was in the film ‘Away from Her’ in 2006.
Throughout her life, she has remained active for many charitable causes including animal rights, and the environment.
‘All you can do is make people more aware of the realities’ she has said.
Overall, it’s a varied and fascinating career. The quality of the films speak for themselves, with the performance’s she gave in them, still shining through today.
The Mumper of SE5