“She’s fair game, Joe. It’s always open season on princesses.”
‘Roman Holiday’, directed by William Wyler in 1953, is a romantic comedy set in Rome and starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Hepburn plays a European princess (clearly based on Great Britain’s Elizabeth) who feels the stress of being constantly in a schedule and under protection on a royal visit to Italy. She escapes one evening, high on sleeping pills, and meets an American reporter played by Peck. Peck eventually realises that he has a potentially lucrative story and so conceals his occupation from her as they explore the city together, but then they begin to fall in love. It’s a charming and gentle film that, like more recent films such as ‘The King’s Speech’ says much about the curious pressures and restrictions that come from the ultimate privilege. It’s a story that is pitched perfectly, both main characters develop, Hepburn from an unworldly and robotic aristocrat into a hedonistic young woman, and Peck from being a self-centred narcissist into a romantic hero who voluntarily abandons his story for her sake. It doesn’t present a fantasy ending and, in many ways, the final shot of Peck is ambiguous, but weirdly for me the romance is not the point of the film, instead the way both characters change and enhance one another is the most important aspect. The film is also notable for being written by Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted following the HUAC investigations. He won an Oscar but the actual award went to others until much later when his involvement was acknowledged. Whilst a major part of the pleasure of the film comes from the chemistry and interplay between the two leads, knowing about Trumbo makes you focus on the script as well, and it is both witty and humane, two qualities that Hollywood needed at such a factious time.
Would I recommend it? Of course – it’s charming. This is a rare out-and-out Hollywood genre movie for my list, something I’m experimenting with after ‘The Searchers’, but it won’t be the last.