Christie is Diana Scott, a rather amoral model and would-be actress in swinging '60s London. Diana is married to a nice young man named Tony who doesn't interest her very much, and she immediately forgets about him when she meets Robert (Dirk Bogarde), a BBC television journalist. Robert is married but sexy Diana has little trouble seducing him. Eventually Robert leaves his wife for Diana and the two move in together.
Diana begins to tire of domestic life with Robert just as she tired of life with her husband. She meets Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey), an advertising executive and total sleazeball. Diana, while still living with Robert, carries on an affair with louche Miles that gets her a part in a cheesy movie while also introducing her to the weird orgiastic lifestyle of the London and Paris upper crust. She gets pregnant and has an abortion. Eventually Robert has enough and leaves her. Miles isn't one for commitment, but there's a third suitor in the person of Cesare (José Luis de Vilallonga), an insanely wealthy Italian prince. In between, Diana strikes up a close platonic friendship with Malcolm (Roland Curram), a gay fashion photographer.
Christie had been seen in a few supporting roles but this film and Doctor Zhivago, which came out in the same year, made her a huge star. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Actress (Christie), Original Screenplay (Frederic Raphael), and Black-and-White Costume Design (Julie Harris—no, not that one).
- Camp Gay: Among the boundaries this film pushed was overt references to homosexuality, like with the minor character of Lord Grout, who is very effete and says of the black servants at a party, "Like your black boys, Alex, I suppose I can't wrap one up and take him home?"
- Casting Couch:
- Diana's sex with Miles leads directly to a bit part in a movie.
- A later scene has Robert encouraging her to audition for a part in a play. She goes to the theater and, while waiting in the wings, hears another actress tell the director about all the regional theater work she's been doing. Diana, who pretty clearly is not interested in doing all that work, leaves. She goes back to Miles and after more sex gets a part in a commercial.
- Creator Cameo: John Schlesinger is the director at the theater, holding auditions.
- Dying Alone: Discussed Trope. Diana notes how nice it is that the Prince has an extended family, but he replies that "Every man is alone in the last result."
- Eiffel Tower Effect: We actually start with the Arc de Triomphe, then we get the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame too to make it very clear that Diana and Miles are in Paris.
- Epic Tracking Shot: Towards the end of the movie there's a long tracking shot in which the camera follows Diana through several rooms of Prince Cesare's massive mansion, while she hysterically wrecks things and takes off her clothes one item at a time.
- Fan Disservice: A scene with Diana walking through Cesare's mansion, gradually stripping, leads to a brief shot of her nude from the rear before she throws herself down on the bed. The whole time she is weeping hysterically with grief and unhappiness over her life as a Trophy Wife.
- For Want Of A Nail: Diana thinks that if Robert had only gotten to the apartment a half-hour later, they might have gotten back together. But as it turns out he caught her with Miles again, and any hope of a rekindled romance is crushed.
- Gay Best Friend: Malcolm the photographer, with whom Diana goes gallivanting around Italy for a while after breaking up with Robert. He's the only one who seems to understand her.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: And bad girls have them, which is why Diana aborts her pregnancy because she doesn't want to interfere with her movie career.
- Hitler Cam: Used to show Diana from Miles's point of view, as she hops up on top of a boardroom table and then walks over to him in a chair at the end. Symbolic of Diana using her sexuality to establish the power in their relationship.
- How We Got Here: As revealed by a shot at the end. The opening shot shows a large poster of Diana, with the heading "My Story, beginning today in Ideal Woman." The closing shot, after Diana is dumped again by Robert and goes back home to Italy in defeat, shows a newsstand with several copies of Ideal Woman magazine, showing the Diana cover story. Diana's narration is her interview.
- Jump Cut: Diana and Robert host a party, but soon regret it, hiding in the bedroom while they commiserate over the huge crowd of people in their apartment. Then there's a shot of the bed with all the guest coats on it, followed by a jump cut to the bed with all of the coats gone, followed by a jump cut to the bed with Robert and Diana lying on it.
- Mathematician's Answer: After Diana tells Miles to leave and he doesn't.Diana: I asked you to go. Why haven't you?
Miles: Because I've stayed.
- Meet Cute: Diana is a random passerby that Robert's TV crew snags for a woman-on-the-street interview, no doubt because she's good-looking.
- Modeling is Glamorous: The film is about Diana Scott, a beauteous model from Swinging Sixties London, who gets into multiple romantic entanglements, attends high-profile charity galas, and flies around the world for various jobs. However, her personal unfulfilment, amorality, and disillusionment with the jet set are running themes, and the film ends with her stuck in a marriage to an Italian prince.
- Narrator All Along: The film is peppered throughout with narration, actually interacting with the film a couple of times. It can be Unreliable, with Blatant Lies contradicted by the action onscreen. We find out at the end that the narration is Diana's interview with Ideal Woman magazine.
- The One That Got Away: How Diana feels about Robert. She doesn't seem to care very much about anybody else, but she breaks down sobbing after her infidelity causes Robert to dump her. Later she muses about how chance timing cost them a chance of reuniting (see For Want Of A Nail above). At the end she goes back to England to meet him, they have sex, and she's deliriously happy, talking about how they're going to live together in the country. Robert then cruelly rejects her, having had his revenge.
- Precision F-Strike: Near the end, Diana gets a harassing phone call, maybe from Robert, although we never find out. When the smarmy voice on the other end of the line won't reveal himself, an angry Diana screeches, "For chrissakes, stop fucking around and tell me who's speaking!"
- Revealing Hug: Diana embraces Robert and says "I'm so happy!" Robert's uncertain look as she hugs him reveals his doubts. By now he's pretty sure she's cheating on him with Miles.
- Rule of Three: Not counting her rather dull husband that we only see in one early scene, there are three men in Diana's life: her true love Robert, her sleazy playboy boyfriend Miles, and Cesare the Italian prince who wants to possess her.
- Three-Way Sex: Another bit of censorship falling by the wayside. We don't see the three-way sex, and neither does Robert when he catches Diana with Miles and stalks off. After that, the scene cuts to an Asian woman in the apartment with Diana and Miles, who is sitting in her underwear in front of a mirror.
- Trophy Wife: Diana winds up in an empty existence as the trophy wife of a wealthy Italian prince. She hates it.
- Unreliable Voiceover: Diana's narration often consists of self-exculpatory excuses that are contradicted by the narration. When she insists that she never wanted to break up a family, the action shows her stalking Robert as he goes back home to his wife and kids. When she says that she always wanted Robert to spend time with his children, the action shows Diana in a snit when Robert returns from a visit to his children, asking "Where the hell have you been?"