Roman Holiday Review

Film Still
  • Roman Holiday film still


A restoration of William Wyler's featherlight Roman runaround from 1953.

William Wyler's dimestore romantic fairy tale sees a cloistered princess (Audrey Hepburn) escaping the regal tedium of her endless diplomatic duties to take in a handy itinerary of Roman tourist hot spots by riding pillion on the Vespa of a suave, scheming and oh-so-gangly American expat journo (Gregory Peck).

For those who've never seen 1953's Roman Holiday, which is re-released in the UK on a newly restored print, it is exactly the film you expect it to be, with Hepburn forging the typecast she would become known for: the flighty, saucer-eyed coquette with an impossibly posh, honeyed drawl and a figure that would make an hourglass blush. The pair go everywhere you'd expect them to, they wear everything you'd expect them to, they drink everything you'd expect them to, they say everything you expect them to and they fall in love, just as you'd expect them to.

The film bills itself as being photographed on location in Rome, and it's the first American production to be created entirely outside the motherland. In a way, Hepburn's Princess Anne could be viewed as a stand-in for Wyler, her thirst for new experience and drinking in these exotic sights are mirrored by a director who is, for once, allowed off of his Hollywood leash. Hepburn represents all western cinema, finally allowed out to play on the cobbled streets of postwar Europe.

Yet the view we're given of Rome in the mid-'50s is one that been primped and cleaned to make it look like the ultimate holiday destination. The crumbling, hellish metropolis seen in Rome: Open City is all but a distant memory, the scars of conflict and fascism all but pasted over by caricatures of salty locals in vests and flatcaps. The liquored-up grotesquery of after hours Rome that Fellini presented in Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita, too, are never even hinted at here. This Rome is a romantic ideal, a picture postcard inside a giant snowglobe.

But this is a romantic fantasy, and it sticks to its remit with single-minded rigour. As a couple, Peck and Hepburn never feel particularly credible, and the former is clearly working outside his comfort zone, unable to "go screwball" in the same way that came as natural to someone like Cary Grant. And despite its status as a landmark of location shooting, Wyler always felt best within the cosy confines of the studio where he could tangle more freely with the light and shadows.


A beloved Euro romance returns to the big screen, restored.



Jolly and light. Though hardly one of the greats.


In Retrospect

A sucker-punch ending adds a little heft, but not enough to save it.

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