• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, June 07, 2012

    Roman Holiday and the Jubilee

    I can't think of a more perfect film to watch to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee than Roman Holiday. Released in 1953 the year of Queen Elizabeth's coronation it imagines the story of a young princess (Audrey Hepburn) who escapes her duty for a single day, enjoys a day of freedom and falls in love before realising her duty and returning to her life of regal service.

    The timing and therefore the parallels are more than coincidental. The thinnest possible veil is pulled between Hepburn's Princess Anne and Elizabeth II: Anne is younger, unmarried, and not from Britain, but how many other royal families have the Queen's English as their first language? Those parallels give extra meaning to the film's deep seated themes. Not only was our new queen stepping into a new life, with it's additional duties, responsibilities and obligations, but also the shock of the abdication of her uncle Edward VIII just 15 years before still hangs in the background creating the plot's central tension: will she return or won't she?

    Hepburn is most fondly remember for Breakfast at Tiffany's; Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird and director William Wyler for Ben Hur, but I think all three do far better work here. The final scene alone is a masterful piece of subtle acting telling a story that no-one else in the room understands. Quiet, dignified and understated it belies the raw and painful emotions that rage under the surface.

    It's hard to imagine a film like this would be made today. Not only is Edward's abdication a distant memory, but the idea that the only thing in life that matters is 'being true to yourself' is so deeply embedded now that a character rejecting that for the sake of her duty just wouldn't wash. But it's that same dedication and self-sacrifice that Queen Elizabeth has given for the last 60 years, and why she is so widely admired, something grout back to me watching footage of her carrying on with her obligations throughout the Jubilee celebrations as if it wasn't pouring with rain, or her husband wasn't seriously ill in hospital.

    I can't help but imagine what might have become of Hepburn's Princess Anne. When, and if, she became queen; if she married; if she ever had a day that matched one; if, in some imaginary kingdom a lot like Britain, she too is celebrating 60 years, an old grandmother smiling and nodding to give approval to members of the public and 'stars' she will never quite see the appeal of or understand. And whilst we're left with the image of Peck meandering down a grand, spectacular, but empty hall, the perfect image of the life the princess has re-adopted, I wish that more films about 'royalty' conveyed even a fraction of that captured in that long lonely walk.



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