Roman Holiday is a stylish romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) feels trapped by her royal duties on a tour of Europe. During the night, she secretly stows herself away in the back of a van, riding into the centre of Rome where she meets and falls in love with American newspaper journalist, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). Ann tries to conceal her identity, calling herself Anya, but when he realises who she really is, Joe goes undercover too and comes up with a scheme for an exclusive on the Princess’ life.
Roman Holiday was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1954, winning three – Best Actress, Best Costume Design and Best Writing. This is impressive for any film and particularly for a comedy. But on watching Roman Holiday, it’s easy to see why it has been so well received.
The part of Ann was Audrey Hepburn’s first major role. Although Frank Capra (who previously optioned Roman Holiday before passing it to Paramount) had hoped to cast Elizabeth Taylor for the role, Hepburn impressed in a now legendary screen test. Following Hepburn’s test, the camera was left to roll and her lively conversations were caught on tape, winning her the part. It was a fortunate occurrence as Hepburn gives a splendid performance both as the restrained, bored and claustrophobic Ann and the fun, curious and affectionate Anya. Very quickly we see the confident Princess behaving like a duck out of water – Ann doesn’t know what to do in the real world – and Hepburn presents these misunderstandings to create some very funny moments. When Joe finds Anna behaving drunk on the street, he takes her home and she asks, ‘who helps me get undressed?’. Joe’s restrained bashfulness gives us a wonderful sense of his true character. The chemistry between Hepburn and Peck is sensational in this scene and throughout.
“Filmed entirely in Rome, we are taken on a whistle stop tour of Rome’s most impressive landmarks from the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum
Directed by William Wyler (who received a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards) famed for his ability to generate emotional depth, draws out the tender relationship between his two lead characters. Wyler’s Roman Holiday is full of insightful moments – in an early scene, Wyler shows us Princess Ann’s boredom, along with the pain and endurance that her duties bring by capturing Ann’s feet under her gown. Interspersed with shots of Ann greeting an endless succession of guests, she slips off her shoe, wiggles her toes and then struggles to put it back on unnoticed.
Roman Holiday was filmed entirely in Rome and so we are taken on a whistle stop tour of the city’s most impressive landmarks from the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum. But at no point do these locations overshadow the characters that populate them. As Anya enjoys an ice cream cornet on the Spanish Steps, what captures the attention most of all is the spark between Anya and Joe.
There are plenty of laughs in Roman Holiday and the comedy frequently shifts between subtle and slapstick. Joe’s photo-journalist, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), is on the receiving end of much of the slapstick humour, making him a vital cog in the brilliance of the film.
As Ann’s day of escape moves along from one escapade to another, Roman Holiday feels joyous and fun. Watching it today, it’s also something of a style statement, from the Vespa scooter to Anya’s pixie haircut. The costume design is impeccable. Wearing the same outfit for the majority of the film, Anya’s ensemble is tweaked throughout. From rolled up sleeves to the way her scarf is tied, Roman Holiday gives us a lesson in the versatility of fashion.
At the time of Roman Holiday’s production, the world was fascinated by Princess Margaret’s relationship with Peter Townsend and this almost certainly helped to make Roman Holiday a popular hit. But with the recent interest in Princess Diana and the Duchess of Cambridge, these themes transcend time – as Irving says to Joe, ‘she’s fair game – it’s always open season on princesses’.
Roman Holiday has it all – character, chemistry, laughs and style. The best romantic comedy I’ve seen in years and a reminder that the classics are often the best.
VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭