JOHN SCHLESINGER, WHO died last year at seventy-seven, was one of the most interesting British film directors, and certainly achieved more than his best-known contemporaries - Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson and Jack Clayton. He was also one of the few Brits to have made a reasonable career in America, though all his best and most successful films were made in the Sixties, and the Hollywood period thereafter inevitably fails to match up. His own disappointments were mirrored in the themes of his movies, which were usually concerned with cowards, failures, losers, the dark side of life, and the feel-bad factor. William Mann's committed and almost hagiographic biography overrates Schlesinger and finds good things to say about even his most horrendous pictures (such as Honky Tonk Freeway), but benefits from extensive interviews with the director - conducted when he was seriously ill - and his actors and co-workers. Schlesinger was always treated generously by the critics, and this gives Mann his chance to proselytise for films which the more discerning viewer would see as glorified potboilers.
Schlesinger's two finest films were Billy Liar and Midnight Cowboy. Mann tries to make the case for the others, mostly unconvincingly. Darling is a rather tiresome Sixties period piece; Far from the Madding Crowd a decent and honourable though flat version of Hardy, with Julie Christie miscast as the heroine;