Lonely, wealthy socialite plans an affair with a divorced doctor.
At first glance, Richard Lester’s fascinating curio looks like a standard ’60s swinging comedy, as Julie Christie’s eponymous failed free spirit zeroes in on starchy George C. Scott for an affair. Yet as the narrative unfolds in bold flashbacks/flashforwards, Petulia’s central sadness is unravelled, particularly in her relationship with her abusive playboy husband (Richard Chamberlain).
The film perfectly captures San Francisco at a counter-cultural crossroads, but is remarkable for Lester’s ability to marry structure and technique to characters’ emotions. It might be the most ’60s movie ever made, but it is extraordinarily influential (cinematographer Nic Roeg’s striking red palette crops up all over the place) and has a density that keeps it fresh.
Quintessentially 60s in style but shows more depth than apparent at first glance.