Friday, July 8, 2011

Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn Enchants

'Roman Holiday' is a very unusual movie - a combination of a fairy story about a princess, a romance, a comedy and with more than a touch of intrigue and excitement thrown in as well. It does not have the traditional "happy ever after" fairy tale ending either. It was made in 1953 by William Wyler, one of Hollywood's pre-eminent directors, already well-known for other classic movies such as 'Wuthering Heights', in 1939, 'Mrs Miniver' in 194? And 'the Best Years of Our Lives' in 1946. Wyler assembled a first class cast led by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn as the romantic interest and with Eddy Albert as the perfect comic foil.

The film was a major international hit and was nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards, a remarkable number for the romantic comedy genre. It actually won three Oscars, including Best Actress for Audrey Hepburn in her first Hollywood film and, at that time, relatively unknown outside Britain where she had appeared in several movies. After 'Roman Holiday', and, indeed, because of it, she became an international superstar and a fashion icon for women across the globe. Of the movie's other two Oscars one was won by Edith Head for Best Black and White Costume design and the other by Ian McLellan Hunter for Best Original Story. The screenplay had in fact been written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten infamously blacklisted for supposed ties to the Communist party. A disgraceful wrong was partially put right when Trumbo was posthumously credited and awarded an Oscar in 1992.

The whole film was shot on location in Rome and the Eternal city's well-known landmarks add authenticity as well as a touch of magic to the fairy tale atmosphere of the story. Audrey Hepburn plays a princess who is tired of the pomp and ceremony of her ordered royal life, and she seeks to escape by slipping away from her staff and mingling with the ordinary people in the streets of Rome. She meets an American reporter, played by ~Gregory Peck, who is in Rome to write about her Royal visit, and the two spend a wonderful time together exploring the city and, naturally, fall in love. This is where the movie deviates from conventional fairy stories. The princess never loses sight of the reality of her royal existence and we, the audience, watch the loving couple fall under each other's spell and the spell of the city whilst knowing that that it all has to end. And end it does with the couple bidding each other farewell and with most of us in tears.

'Roman Holiday' is an exquisite film. Although the story is fanciful it is sufficiently grounded to be completely believable. We buy into it and find ourselves willing the lovers to forget royal etiquette and to go off, get married and set up home together. But it is not to be. Part of the charm of the film is the reality, and royal duty has to take precedence. But for a while we hoped, and enjoyed. 'Roman Holiday' is a delightful experience. Go and wallow in it.

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