Tuesday 10 February 2015

Movie Review: Roman Holiday (1953)

Audrey Hepburn's grand introduction to global stardom, Roman Holiday is a perfect romance, with the story of a vibrant but weary princess on the loose in Rome tinged with comedy and poignancy.

Young and glamorous Royal Princess Ann (Hepburn) is on an extensive goodwill tour of Europe on behalf of her unnamed country, and nearing exhaustion. Not allowed to make any of her own decisions and over scheduled with ceremonial events, she finally suffers a breakdown in Rome, throws a royal fit that rocks her entourage, and is given a sedative. But in the middle of the night Ann decides that what she needs is a break from the madness of formality, and she escapes from the embassy compound, intent on playing tourist.

Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) is a laid back American journalist based in Rome. He stumbles upon Ann sleeping on an outdoor bench, and allows her to crash at his apartment until the she sleeps off the sedation. Joe eventually realizes that Ann is the missing princess, and with the help of his photographer friend Irving (Eddie Albert), he plans to secure the surreptitious scoop of a lifetime. But as Joe and Ann spend more time together in Rome, they grow fond of each other and both have to reevaluate their motives.

Roman Holiday compiles the best elements of a successful romance into a flawless package. Two attractive leads from contrasting backgrounds, an exotic setting, a sprinkling of royalty, mischief, and a rebellious spirit, and the coming together of the young innocent princess with the worldly journalist. The film wears its pure romantic intentions on its lapel, and celebrates the magic that can happen in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Roman Holiday is a rich and leisurely stroll through the land of the possible, an exquisitely assembled piece of film making.

With Elizabeth Taylor and Jean Simmons both unavailable, director William Wyler plucked the 24 year old Hepburn from obscurity and gave her the chance of a lifetime, and she grasped it with both hands. Combining classic beauty with friendly accessibility and a pragmatic girl-next-door outlook on life, Hepburn establishes her coquettish persona in a few short scenes, and fearlessly matches the veteran Peck, step for step as she marches into stardom.

Peck proves to be the perfect partner for Hepburn's stepping out party, his gentlemanly air conveying distinguished experience and paving the way for Hepburn to stride into Hollywood's glamour circle, clutching the Best Actress Academy Award.

Wyler also insisted that Roman Holiday be filmed entirely on location in Rome, an astute decision that immeasurably adds to the authenticity of the experience. The familiar and famous locations, including the Fontana di Trevi, the Piazza Venezia, the Spanish Steps and Colosseum provide a backdrop that emphasizes Ann's desire to break free and see the sights unconfined by protocol, while the many Italian supporting actors in small roles add a distinctive and genuine flavour that sets Roman Holiday apart from backlot productions.

The classic scenes are many, sprinkled like gold dust throughout the film. Joe expertly rolling the blissfully sleeping Ann off his precious bed and onto the couch; Ann and Joe motoring through Rome and eventually into trouble on a scooter; Joe surprising Ann at the Mouth Of Truth; Joe none-too-subtly bruising Irving into understanding his plan for a scoop; Ann introducing herself to Irving as Anya Smith and earning the nickname "Smitty" for her troubles; and the wild rumble with government agents at the docks where Ann gets to demonstrate her guitar weaponry skills. Roman Holiday is filled with clever touches of humour and caring, the fertile ground for affection to blossom.

And just as often as Wyler and screenwriters Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton hit the right notes, they also avoid the traps that tend to diminish cinematic romances. Once Ann and Joe start to enjoy their time together, the risks to the relationship are not extraneous; rather the potential lovers themselves have to assess the complexities of where their emotions are heading and balance immediate personal fulfillment with longer-term realistic expectations. And the ending finds contentment in a mature resolution that respects the context.

Roman Holiday is a classy romance, and an impeccable launch for the most elegant of stars.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


  1. Audrey´s Holiday in Rome !

    "Rome, thou art a whole world, it is true, and yet without love this
    World would not be the world, Rome would cease to be Rome..."

  2. My style ! Likeable and cool boss Gregory Peck and romantic Audrey...

    "Sun, who tarries on high, contemplating Rome:
    Greater never you've nor shall you in future see greater
    Than Rome, O sun, as your priest, Horace, enraptured foretol..."


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