Roman Holiday: Fun and Romance in the Eternal City

Roman Holiday is an American romantic comedy film released by Paramount Pictures in 1953. It stars Audrey Hepburn as a bored princess visiting Italy and Gregory Peck as a reporter for the American News Service. Roman Holiday was produced and directed by William Wyler and filmed at the Italian Cinecittà Studios and on location in Rome.

The film begins with a short newsreel broadcast of the visit to Rome of Princess Ann from an unnamed country as part of a goodwill tour of Europe’s capital cities. It becomes immediately clear that Ann is frustrated with her strict royal schedules.

She is presented with important dignitaries during the extravagant ball in her honor, such as the Papal Nuncio, a maharajah, a monsignor, a prince, and many others. The continual adherence to protocol makes Ann weary and restless.

Later that night, Ann is brought warm milk and crackers, but she becomes upset when hearing her schedule. She is given a sedative by her doctor to help her relax and she is left alone to sleep. Ann makes her way to the window and becomes engrossed with the Roman nightlife.

Escape and Adventure

Yearning for excitement and adventure, Ann escapes from the embassy by hiding in the back of a supply truck. When the truck stops at the Piazza Della Republicca, she jumps out as she is becoming increasingly drowsy from the effects of the sedative.

Having lost another late-night card game with his friends, American Foreign Press reporter Joe Bradley decides to make his way home to prepare for his morning interview at the Princess Ann press conference.

As he walks by the Roman Forum, Joe stumbles upon Ann sleeping on the wall in front of the Arco di Settimo Severo. Oblivious to who she is, Joe thinks it is strange that a well-read and well-dressed young lady is sleeping on a public street like a drunk. He tries to put Ann in a taxi, but she is so sedated that she is unable to speak coherently and is unable to reveal her home address.  

After many attempts, Joe has no option but to bring Ann to his lowly apartment in Via Margutta, a narrow street in the center of Rome. Joe lets Ann sleep the night on his sofa.

Top crisis Secret

The disappearance of Princess Ann has been treated as a “Top Crisis secret” and the cover-up message special embassy bulletin reports of the sudden illness of the princess.

The next morning, Joe wakes up to find that he has overslept. It is already 11.45, the time of Princess Ann’s press conference. Not realizing that the press conference was canceled, Joe frantically makes his way to the American Press Service and pretends to his boss, Mr. Hennessey, that he has already been to the press conference and when pressed, explains a little bit about what the Princess told him.

Hennessey angrily responds that the princess has taken ill since three o’clock in the morning and had ordered all appointments canceled.

Joe is shown the newspaper he immediately recognizes the photo of Princess Ann under the headline. She is the visitor sleeping on the sofa in his apartment. Spotting an opportunity, Joe offers a huge story potential to his boss. He pushes the idea of an exclusive interview with the princess which will include photos. Hennessey offers $5000 for the story but bets Joe $500 that he cannot possibly deliver such an article.

Joe returns home to attend the sleeping visitor and secretly phones his photographer friend Irving to tell him about the potentially huge news story which needs pictures.

When she awakes, Ann, who calls herself “Anya”, does not reveal her real job to Joe who is equally secretive of his profession.

Feeling compelled to leave and wander around the city, Ann and Joe would soon agree to spend the day together, have fun, and meet Irving.

Would Ann and Joe reveal their true identities as they become closer during their happy summer holiday in Rome?

An Enduring Romance

Roman Holiday is regarded as one of Hollywood’s most enduring romances. The screenplay, which was inspired by the recent publicity surrounding Britain’s Queen Margaret and the recent coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, was written by John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo.

Screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter was credited as the writer because Trumbo was blacklisted. Trumbo had been imprisoned for refusing to co-operate with the House Un-American Activities Committee’s investigation for having alleged fascist and communist ties. Hunter would also soon be blacklisted.

Frank Capra had been approached to direct the picture, but Hollywood insiders believe he shied away from the project after learning about Trumbo’s involvement. William Wyler accepted the directorial duties because he said he wanted to make a comedy and to work on location in Rome.

It has also been mentioned that Wyler was anxious to film in Europe because he wanted to get away from the House Un-American Activities Committee in the States. After all, they were threatening to investigate him because of his liberal politics.

Cary Grant was offered the role of Joe Bradley, but he turned it down. Elizabeth Taylor and Jean Simmons were touted to play Ann.

A New Star

The casting of Audrey Hepburn was a revelation. Born in Brussels in 1929, and spending her youth in Belgium, The Netherlands, and England, Audrey had initially wanted to become a ballet dancer. She performed on stage, especially in the lead role of Colette’s Gigi, and had minor roles in British films such as the cigarette girl in Laughter in Paradise (1951) and as Chiquita in the opening scene of the Ealing masterpiece The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).

Audrey Hepburn’s unique slender elegance and natural talent were evident in her successful screen test that won over. Hepburn’s star-making performance contributes immensely to the success of the picture. Roman Holiday is a funny, and touching romantic comedy about duty over personal want, which reflects Dalton Trumbo’s conflicting issues.

Roman Holiday was a critical triumph. William Wyler expertly created a fairy tale story that has a realistic feel because it was filmed mostly in real locations than on sound stages, including local people, and using actual street sounds. This realistic style was probably inspired by the recent release of the hugely influential and hugely lauded Italian neo-realist film Bicycle Thieves (US title: The Bicycle Thief).

Luminous

Audrey Hepburn is luminous in her American debut. Roman Holiday allows Hepburn to show off her undeniable charm and style that were so evident in the screen test. Her performance as Ann propelled Hepburn to superstardom, which made her an iconic film star, a fashion icon, and then a humanitarian.

Eddie Albert shines as Joe’s friend Irving Radovich. The supporting cast is excellent such as Hartley Power (as Hennessy), Margaret Rawlings (as Countess Vereberg, Ann’s principal lady-in-waiting), Harcourt Williams (as the Ambassador), and Parlo Carlini (as the hairdresser, Mario).

The role of Joe Bradley was written with Cary Grant in mind, but Grant turned it down as he thought that he was too old to play Hepburn’s love interest, even though he played her love interest in the Charade in 1963. Gregory Peck had long wanted to be in another comedy and so agreed to play the male lead.

Thoughtful and Generous

The quality of Gregory Peck’s performance as Joe Bradley in Roman Holiday is often overlooked by many critics and historians. The fact is that Gregory Peck modestly stepped back to allow his co-star, and future friend, Audrey Hepburn to bask in the hugely deserved media attention following her brilliant performance. Gregory Peck even lobbied, successfully, for Hepburn to receive equal star billing on the posters.

Gregory Peck was a thoughtful, generous, and dignified actor who produced many acclaimed performances, on film and stage, throughout his illustrious career. He was one of the most talented stars in movie history and his sensitive performance as Joe Bradley is one of his finest. 

Roman Holiday attracted huge critical acclaim on release and became a box office success. Audrey Hepburn received universal acclaim for her performance, and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, A BAFTA, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.

The Academy Award for Best Story, which was originally given to Ian McLellan Hunter, was given to Trumbo’s widow in 1993. Dalton Trumbo has since been digitally added to the opening credits.

Roman Holiday was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and ranks highly in many greatest movie romance lists chosen throughout the years.

Like the External City, Roman Holiday is exquisitely beautiful, hopelessly romantic, and completely unforgettable.

MY MEETING WITH AUDREY HEPBURN

I had the privilege of meeting Audrey Hepburn at the UNICEF Children’s Day held at the Westbury Hotel, Dublin, on September 30th in 1988. I was invited as a UNICEF supporter and Youth Worker.

Audrey was a wonderful lady, and she was certainly lovely to me. Audrey’s partner, actor Robert Wolders, who sadly passed a few years ago, was also a very pleasant person to speak to.

I am eternally grateful to those wonderful UNICEF committee members for that wonderful day.

I would also like to thank the staff and family members at the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. It was an honor for me to be a friend of this organisation through the years.

I would like to especially thank Executive Director Ellen Fontana. I am forever grateful for your kindness and friendship.

And thank you Audrey Hepburn.

2 Replies to “Roman Holiday: Fun and Romance in the Eternal City”

  1. As usual a great and passionate article, Paul: thank you for the entertainment in these uncertain times!

    Liked by 1 person

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