By Lily Meek
26th August 2023

"I could never have guessed this when I first photographed her at Paramount Studios in 1953. The new girl in town. She had just completed the filming of Roman Holiday and was at Paramount in Hollywood for publicity photographs.

I really didn't know what to make of Audrey when I first saw her...she did have something... but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I was finally introduced to her. Then that radiant smile hit me right between the eyes, warming me inside like a shot of whisky.

That amazing instant contact she made, a remarkable gift that everyone who met her felt. She exuded some magic warmth that was hers alone."

Bob Willoughby said that of Audrey Hepburn.

He was her portrait photographer, spanning a collection of photographs from throughout her lifetime. Their time together was said to be one of the great platonic love affairs.

It's been a while since I've watched 'Roman Holiday' - but I still couldn't wait to write its retrospective.

Growing up, she was always a part of my journey; be it hanging on my bedroom wall, in my Tiffany & Co skater ring, or watching her films with Nan and Mum - she's never too far. I actually have an Audrey Hepburn tattoo... a bit of a fan. So, I rugged up this week with Nan's crotched blanket, a glass of rosè in hand, and grinned as that black and white Paramount production logo lit up my screen.


...There she was. That emboldened, soon-to-be classic Hollywood star, entering the throne room as Princess Ann... and I couldn't help but think Willoughby was right - because even as a viewer, that radiant smile hit me right between the eyes. Hepburn really does fill you with a magic warmth that was hers alone to give, and I think that was one of the great successes of 'Roman Holiday'.

The film came out in theatres in 1953. It is a romantic comedy produced and directed by William Wyler. Wyler insisted the leading lady be someone not well-known to the public. He didn't want previous roles or knowledge to inhibit the perception of his main role, Princess Ann.

Gregory Peck, on the other hand, was a well-known actor and was cast as the secondary male lead. Word on the street is he wasn't initially happy about taking a slight backseat. Nevertheless, he was locked in.

Wyler did a short casting stint in London - which is where he eventually found Hepburn. Upon his return to the United States, he asked Thorold Dickinson to set up a screen test with Hepburn and keep the cameras rolling after she had ceased her audition. Hepburn had a long and lively conversation with Dickinson about her experiences in World War II. Wyler was so enamoured with her confidence and presence that she was cast shortly after and awarded an Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe shortly after the release of the film.

Hepburn really does fill you with a magic warmth that was hers alone to give, and I think that was one of the great successes of 'Roman Holiday'.

'Roman Holiday' is the story of Princess Ann (Hepburn), a young woman on a royal European tour, who has a tight and strict schedule. One night after a visit from the doctor, Ann runs away to the streets of Rome, where she runs into Joe Bradley (Peck), a US news stringer. Recognising his luck, Mr Bradley documents Ann's adventures around Rome in the hope of exploiting her newfound freedom for a bountiful news story. Only he didn't quite expect to catch feelings for her...

This film is pure charm. It's got great comedic timing, amazing location shots, a fast tempo, and I think was well ahead of its time. I have to commend director William Wyler for taking risks on this film. Sure, there are some corny parts - but this film is ahead of its time in consideration of gender. This 50s film has a comedic female lead who is adventurous, brave, and doesn't get the guy in the end (sorry, spoilers). But, seriously! She gives up love in response to her duty as a monarch. Iconic.

What's more, the 50s was a time when change and revolution were starting.

Hepburn is quoted as saying, "I remember the 50s as a time of renewal and of regained security. There was a rebirth of opportunity, vitality, and enthusiasm... a return to laughter and gaiety - the world was functioning again."

Watching Princess Ann in 'Roman Holiday'... cutting her hair, eating gelato, driving a Vespa and falling in love in the streets of Rome, you really feel that. Wyler imbued the movie's experience with all the best parts of that time period, the best feelings of a holiday, the best moments of falling in love - and a wonderful duo to go through it all with.

To bring it back to Bob Willoughby's words, I would say 'Roman Holiday's' greatest strength is its likeness to its leading lady: it warms you right up inside, like a shot of whisky.

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