September Issue 2013
The Princess and the Pauper
Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Rome — it’s hard to think of a combination more romantic that that. And for it, audiences can thank director William Wyler who cast these two stars in his famed feature Roman Holiday exactly 60 years ago.
Shot in black and white, although technicolour was becoming popular in Hollywood, Roman Holiday follows a young couple who travel around Rome together while lying to each other about their true identities. Student Anya Smith (Hepburn) is actually a runaway princess overwhelmed by the restrictions of the royal world. Businessman Joe Bradley (Peck) is really an expatriate newspaper reporter who thought he was providing shelter to an inebriated woman, only to later discover that she is the very Princess Ann who has been making headlines all over Europe with her disappearance.
This is just the kind of scoop our penniless hero needed and, accompanied by a photographer friend who is there to document everything, the two go sightseeing around the city. From smoking her very first cigarette to breaking traffic laws on a scooter, the princess finally gets to have some fun, but little does she know that Joe plans on writing a story about her escape.
Their constant banter also helps keep things interesting (Princess Ann: “Is this the elevator?” Joe Bradley “It’s my room!”), but even as the audience watches the romance grow between the two, we are well aware that an affair between a princess and a pauper cannot be a lasting one. Will Joe betray her in the end by publishing the tell-all? Will Princess Ann relinquish her title to continue living with Joe? For all its romance, Roman Holiday is not a fairytale where the romantic leads “live happily ever-after.” Instead, Wyler ends the film on a wistful note that highlights how the two inhabit completely different worlds that cannot come together.
Roman Holiday marked Audrey Hepburn’s first major film role and she never looked back after that. She charmed audiences with both her gamine looks and acting, and also went on to win an Academy award. Originally Cary Grant was offered the role of Joe Bradley in the film, but he turned it down saying that he looked too old to star opposite the young Hepburn. And perhaps for the better too, since the coupling of Peck and Hepburn is one of the main reasons why this film has been so adored by audiences over the decades.
Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.