Roman Holiday must seem fresh and fabulous back in 1953, but unlike most timeless comedies, there aren’t much going for William Wyler’s Euro caper aside from largely two distinctive reasons, that a) it’s the first full-length Hollywood production shot outside of homeland America, and b) it heralded the cinematic birth of Audrey Hepburn, who also happen to bag her first Oscar win in her first silverscreen role. Now gliding back to our cinemas in a newly restored print, it looks glorious, if not a little bit pompous, with the Italian capital photographed like a sparkling jewel along with Hepburn looking every inch a style icon, sporting a haircut and a gamine persona that charmed the hell out of everyone. Including Oscar voters.
It’s a great big deal back then to unmount an entire production and take it to the streets of the Eternal City, and props to Wyler for growing some balls, turning down Paramount’s offer to build artificial studio sets and went verité instead. So much so that it becomes a major selling point here, staking authenticity to this rather gorgeously captured piece of cinema, with the Italian capital literally glowing with such luminosity. However, it’s a kind of picture-postcard Rome seen through the perspective of Hollywood, and America in general, with the story locating a romantic plot between a renegade royal and a newspaper hack. The latter dreams of independence and the former seeks professional success – a massive irony here when Roman Holiday is essentially a fairytale wrapped inside a pseudo-Italian neorealist deception.
This is an epitome of Hollywood emulating the masters of Italian cinema, and yet ends up concocting a romantic fable that ever so slightly insults its perceived aesthetic. It’s worth reminding ourselves that this set the formula of the royal-cum-celebrity runaway movies that has been dragged to the sewers and done to death, usually by the House of Mickey Mouse, from Princess Diaries right up to Hannah Montana. Even Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill is a direct rip-off. Hepburn’s Princess Anne, adorable and charming as she is portrayed in the film, feels like a fairy tale caricature, and her brief fling with the suave yet ethically ambiguous Joe played by Gregory Peck rarely feels credible due to their thirteen years age gap. But this was only the first of the several times in which Hepburn was pitted alongside male romantic leads old enough to be her father. And predictable it gets – delightfully groomed people skedaddling across the beautiful streets of Rome, dancing in a riverside party where they fall hopelessly in love and it’s oh-so-romantic, but it cannot be because she’s a Princess and he’s a pleb. So instead they sigh and part ways and move on and worry not because they’ll always have Rome.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: William Wyler | CAST: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert | SCREENPLAY: Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton | PRODUCER: Paramount Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 118 mins | GENRE: Romance/Comedy | COUNTRY: USA