Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)


Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann), Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley). Directed by William Wyler. Screenplay by Ian McLellan Hunter based on the story by Dalton Trumbo.

Roman Holiday gives us exactly what we want to see: Audrey Hepburn as a Princess, and Gregory Peck as the man that charms her. This doesn’t mean that the film is about romance. On the contrary, the characters meet for only a day, and whilst admittedly ending it with feelings for one another, their on screen moments of passion are brief and largely unimportant. The film is more interested in the context in which they interact, and the joy jumping out of every activity in which they partake.

The context is that Princess Ann is a devious young woman, bored of life meeting and greeting people. When visiting Rome, she decides to escape from her daily chores by jumping on the back of a delivery truck and seeing where it takes her. But the sleeping pills given to her prior to this to try and calm her frustration start to set in, and before long she is drearily semiconscious on the side streets. Joe Bradley, a journalist, but more importantly Gregory Peck, and thus a gentleman, kindly picks her up and ensures she is safe until the morning by taking her back to his apartment. Needless to say, a tale is concocted to hide the fact that the Princess is missing, and when news of her alleged fever, along with her picture, floods the front pages of the next day’s newspapers, Joe seizes the opportunity and ensures he’ll be along for the ride on her one day outside of royalty, a photographer at hand to capture every moment.

With this setting comes all of the film’s pleasure. Joe and Ann do nothing more than casually sightsee, eat ice cream, ride on a motorcycle and dance the night away, but in doing so they do everything Ann desires to do but has been unable to all her life. As a result, not only does Ann take pleasure in the little things life has to offer, but we do too, with a renewed and more joyful sense of perspective. Watching Ann, or maybe just Audrey, is the sweetest pleasure Roman Holiday has to offer. The dresses are so cute, the smile so wide, the laughs so genuine, that everything the Audrey persona should be is embodied in one role with an incredible amount of joy. This really is Audrey’s film.

It could have ended too sentimentally, if Anne were not to return to her life as a Princess, or too moralisingly and uncharmingly, if Joe went ahead and wrote the story he intended to. But the latter was never really an option when it would have soured the film’s previous pleasures and conflicted completely with the capabilities of Gregory Peck. He ends up not publishing anything about his day with the Princess, and as such ensures her sweet innocent naiveté and memories of her day of freedom are not tarnished. It’s awfully cute, almost guiltily so, but in the end, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Roman Holiday really does work perfectly.

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