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Review: Roman Holiday

February 4, 2010

I recently made the decision to watch all of my ‘new’ DVDs (i.e. the ones I’ve bought over the years and never bothered to even unwrap). The first of these DVDs was Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler) starring Audrey Hepburn. According to online reports this film is a romantic comedy. However, I didn’t really understand this in the sense of today’s ‘romcoms.’ To me this film was a romantic journey that let a young woman understand her true role in society.

Filmed on location in Rome

Plot (spoiler alert!):
A young European princess (from an unnamed country) named Ann (Hepburn) is taking a whirlwind publicity tour of Europe. One night while she is in Rome she has a tantrum and runs away into the city. She wants to experience ‘real’ life. After acting very drunk she meets an American journalist named Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). Joe decides to take advantage of Ann so he can produce an exclusive article about it and earn $5000 (in conjunction with his photographer friend, Irving Radovich who was played by Eddie Albert) by showing her the city. Joe lets Ann do everything she’s always wanted to do while on a holiday (she gets her hair cut fashionably short, she smokes her first cigarette, she dines at a street side cafe, and she visits historic places and eats gelato). After 52 hours Ann goes home and ‘reorders’ her assistants – she has learned she is a capable young woman who does not need someone else to dress her. During a press conference the next morning, Ann faces Joe and Irving. Both men indicate they will keep her secret (Irving even hands over the photos he took of their trip as a ‘memento’) and Ann speaks in code to Joe (indicating what might have been if he wasn’t, you know, in line for the throne and he a mere commoner).

The world’s silliest Vespa driver.
No. Really. Her driving was ridiculous.

Roman Holiday introduced Audrey Hepburn to American audiences via this first major role. Hepburn won a variety of awards for her role: Academy Award for Best Actress, BAFTA Award for Best British Actress, Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.

My copy of the DVD comes with some background documentaries. Apparently the film was shot in black and white to give it a more universal appeal. Who knew? What we do know is that the film was awarded an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black and White. And the film works in black and white. You can feel the transitory nature of Ann’s holiday and the scratchy nature of the film. The various tones of costumes come across well in black and white as there is no need for any level of ‘gaiety’ in the colourings. We can see the transformation of Ann via her actions, we don’t need blatant costumed reminders.

Scene at the Mouth of Truth features an impromptu practical joke.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t know if I would class this as a romantic comedy today. It certainly has its romantic parts and comedic parts but not how I expect them to appear. This film is heart warming and certainly makes me reconsider how I view the experiences of royalty today (especially when you consider Charles and Diana were making their kerfuffle at the time this was released).

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