Dear Julie Christie

After years in hiding, you're back ... and you've been gone far too long, says a critic who's been breathless these last 30 years
Click to follow
The Independent Online
I was the curly-headed kid in row 12 of that tiny art theatre on Market Street in Philadelphia - because everyone in Billy Liar spoke with a foreign accent, it only played in art theatres with 12 rows. For a buck you could see the matinee and when the matinee was over no one cared if you stayed and watched the picture again - which I did, except that for the second show I moved up to the front row, because in all my 18 years I'd never seen anyone as beautiful as you.

How I hated Tom Courtenay.

The next time we met, it was when you won the Academy Award for Darling. I was sitting on the couch in Fat's house - he was in love with you, too - when your name was announced. He screamed, "She's mine". I reminded Fat why we called him that. He reminded me that in the film you ditched a journalist for an Italian prince. So I temporarily gave up journalism and walked around the campus mumbling, "Buongiorno. Grazie. Te amo. Ciao."

To win your heart after Dr Zhivago and Omar Sharif, I took up bridge. After Fahrenheit 451, I learnt how to spell Truffaut. After Far from the Madding Crowd, I adopted a sheep. After Petulia, I spent a week on a bench at the San Francisco Zoo.

Yet, as the summer of love that was the 1960s began to fade, you too seemed to be planning your exit. There were more films - McCabe and Mrs Miller and Don't Look Now and Shampoo - but something told me your heart wasn't in it any more, and by the time of Heaven Can Wait, you couldn't.

Can it be 17 years already?

While you lived on your farm, tended your animals and made a handful of rather strange films - if nothing else, Heat and Dust and Power proved you can still act - a generation has grown up with a new cinema and somehow forever sealed you into a jar labelled "the Sixties".

Last year, when I wrote a biography of Brigitte Bardot, I came across a magazine article about the so-called "Bardot Phenomenon". It was a "whatever happened to" list of lithe blondes - the second wave, if you will - after Brigitte. Most of the names meant nothing to me. Except yours. All the more so because yours should never have been there. You have never been just another pretty face. Talent will always out. Seven films in which you've appeared have earned eight Oscars and an additional 20 nominations. That's not just luck. Do you know that when you went away, I wasn't the only one to notice that you were gone?

I could forgive you for Tom, Warren, Donald, George C and even Omar. But until now, I didn't think I would ever forgive you for letting them - whoever those thems may be - mix you up so inescapably with the 1960s that now they can think of nothing more to say than "how beautiful she looks, considering".

Those thems don't have history, the way you and I do. Don't let them get you down. A lot of us have always been rooting for you. I did and am. And somewhere, I know, Fat is too. Welcome back.