If Audrey Hepburn was still alive she would have turned 85 years old yesterday (May 4), so to celebrate her legacy here’s a look at her top 5 films.
Like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn is as well known today as she was back in the 50s and 60s. She is mostly remembered for playing iconic characters such as Eliza Dolittle and Holly Golightly, and she has always been loved by fans and critics alike. She received 5 Oscar nominations in her lifetime, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy in the year of her death. Her near 40 year career includes a range of romantic comedies and dramas, and she has shared the screen with many other greats from her time such as Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart and James Garner. I truly believe that Audrey Hepburn will remain a household name for many years to come, and will outlast many other famous names, as she has already. She will always be remembered as a beautiful and sophisticated lady, as well as a talented actress who is responsible for some of the greatest classics in film history.
Audrey’s Top 5 films (in no particular order):
1. Roman Holiday.
1953. Directed by William Wyler.
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert
This was Audrey Hepburn’s breakthrough role, which earned her her first academy award nomination and her only win. Audrey plays Princess Ann who arrives in Rome at the end of her royal European tour. The princess is exhausted by the tour and is feeling stifled by her restrictive lifestyle and many responsibilities. She runs away in the middle of the night and ends up in the care of Joe Bradley, an American journalist (Gregory Peck). Ann conceals her identity so that she can freely explore Rome, but it is not long before this reporter realises that she is the princess.
This romantic comedy runs circles around films of the same genre that are released today. Unlike modern films, this black and white pic, which was the first American film to be entirely shot on location in Italy, is as equally romantic as it is comedic. These days if a romance film is seemingly lighthearted it thinks it can whack the word “comedy” into its description. As you would expect, Audrey Hepburn perfectly portrays the grace of a young, royal woman, but she also manages to find the humour in many scenes whilst maintaining this persona. Most notable is the scene in which she has been drugged in order to help her sleep and she meets Joe Bradley for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and even though it was made more than 60 years ago it is a film that both men and women can still enjoy today.
2. Funny Face
1957. Directed by Stanley Donen
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson
Audrey plays Jo Stockton, a young, intelligent woman who works in a bookshop and studies the theories of French professor Emile Flostre. By a twist of fate she becomes mixed up with a women’s fashion magazine, which leads to photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) suggesting she would be perfect as the new face to represent the magazine and its new direction. Audrey is whisked off to Paris for fashion shoots and all sorts of publicity becoming torn between Dick’s glamorous world and the intellectual one of her beloved Professor, who is the only reason she agreed to go to Paris in the first place.
Before Audrey became an actor she studied ballet and was also a model, and this film showcases both of these talents. Although not quite as good of a dancer as the great Fred Astaire, and certainly not anywhere near as good of a singer, Audrey is delightful in this musical romantic comedy, and is very well suited to the character of Jo Stockton. I particularly enjoyed her contemporary jazz dance number in an underground French cafe, and Fred Astaire also does a fantastic solo dance outside the Parisian hotel where Audrey is staying. I absolutely love these sorts of 1950s musicals and it is my second favourite one by Stanley Donen, Singin’ in the Rain of course being my first. Like Singin’ in The Rain, this film has a lot of modern elements that make it accessible to all audiences from all generations.
Special Mention: My Fair Lady
Based on the stage production, My Fair Lady (1964) is another popular musical in which Audrey stars, despite her limited singing abilities, as once again she is the ideal actress to bring the character of Eliza Dolittle to life. Eliza is an unrefined, lower class English girl who is taken in by a well-to-do professor. This professor transforms her into a sophisticated, aristocratic lady in order to win a bet. I personally did not like this film; when it comes to musicals I either adore them or can’t stand them, and unfortunately this film fell into the latter category. I found it to be far too long, and the cockney English accent really grated on my nerves, but I must say that the costumes were absolutely stunning. Although I am not a fan of this film, it is a classic and also one of Audrey’s more recognised films.
Special Mention: Charade
This 1963 film, also directed by Stanley Donen and also set in Paris, is affectionately known as the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made. Although it is a suspenseful murder mystery with high profile stars such as Cary Grant, I personally don’t think it has the feel of a Hitchcock film. The comedy, the stereotypical criminal characters and the rather ordinary cinematography are most uncharacteristic for a Hitchcock film. Having said that, there is some excellent dialogue in this film and great chemistry between Audrey and Cary Grant. Apparently Grant originally turned down the role due to concerns surrounding the 20 year age gap between him and Hepburn, but agreed to it after a rewrite that made Audrey’s character the dominant one who pursued the relationship between them. He claimed that this made him more comfortable as his character came across as less of a predator. I loved Audrey in this sassy role, but the film as a whole is not as outstanding as those in my Top 5.
3. The Nun’s Story
1959. Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch and Edith Evans
In the 1930s in Belgium, the daughter of a respected surgeon, Gabrielle van der Mal (Audrey Hepburn), decides to enter a convent and become a nun in hope of the opportunity to work as a nurse in the Congo. She subjects herself to the strict lifestyle of the nunnery only to learn that she is not allowed to have such aspirations for herself. Nevertheless, she strives to uphold the values of a nun, even though many of them go against her true nature, and secretly wishes that she will be sent to the Congo with the others nuns who specialise in nursing and tropical diseases. Over the course of the film we are given an inside look to the operations of a convent and the very high expectations placed upon those who commit themselves to God.
As far as I’m concerned, Julie Andrews can suck it – Audrey Hepburn makes a much better nun. I’ve read that Audrey was most proud of her performance in this film and thought of it as the best performance she ever delivered, and I completely agree with her. Simone Signoret beat Audrey for the Oscar for best actress in a leading role that year, but I personally think Audrey was robbed.
The idea of giving up your identity and everything you own in order to live a life married only to God is absolutely insane to me. It is something I could never and would never do, which is why I found this film so fascinating. This film provided me with a level of insight into the life of a nun that I have never received in any other film so far. The Nun’s Story received eight Academy Award nominations overall, but didn’t win any, which I think is a huge shame, as it is a very honest and sincere film. I really connected with Audrey’s character in her struggles to conform to the lifestyle of a nun and also appreciated the lack of Hollywood glamour in this film.
Special Mention: War and Peace
Imagine Gone With The Wind set in Russia during the times of Napoleon’s reign and that is essentially War and Peace, except that Audrey Hepburn’s character is thankfully much more likeable and much less of a prima donna than Scarlett O’Hara. Audrey stars opposite her first husband Mel Ferrer (who often makes random cameo appearances in her other films) and Henry Fonda. Made in 1953 and directed by King Vidor, the film, as you would expect, is based on the novel of the same title by Leo Tolstoy. It’s a very long, melodramatic film, but it is very well made. Not quite as good as The Nun’s Story, however, which is more grounded in reality.
4. How To Steal A Million
1966. Directed by William Wyler
Starring: Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole
In this fabulous, and slightly absurd comedy, Audrey plays the daughter of an artist who forges and sells famous artworks. She and her father are very wealthy and highly respected, therefore when they donate a falsified version of the Cellini Venus sculpture to a Paris museum, they don’t think the museum will test its authenticity. Of course, they turn out to be wrong. In order to protect her father’s reputation, Audrey exploits a high-society burglar (Peter O’Toole) to help her steal back the sculpture, which is worth $1 million. Although Peter O’Toole seems baffled by the idea of stealing a sculpture that already belongs to her and her father, he helps her perform the heist.
The on-screen chemistry between Audrey and Peter O’Toole is fantastic, as is the comedy and the many bizarre situations that arise as a result of Audrey’s character’s predicament. Apparently William Wyler originally planned for this film to directly follow the release of Roman Holiday and for Gregory Peck to once again star opposite Audrey Hepburn. After Roman Holiday, however, Gregory Peck was more interested in serious and much darker roles. I think this decision by Gregory Peck was the best for all involved as he went on to do Guns of Navarone and To Kill A Mocking Bird, and Peter O’Toole instead became involved in this film. Peter O’Toole is sheer perfection in this role, and it is really difficult to imagine anyone else as his character, least of all Gregory Peck. Even though it was made in the 1960s, like many of Audrey’s films, it is nowhere near as dated as other films from its time and can still be easily watched today.
5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
1961. Directed by Blake Edwards
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard and Mickey Rooney
Of course, any Audrey Hepburn list has to be rounded off with Breakfast At Tiffany’s. From the cat called Cat, to Audrey sitting on the windowsill singing Moon River, to the gorgeous black dress she wears whilst window shopping at the jewellery store, there’s so much about this film to love, and so much that has and will always be remembered. It is an absolute American Classic and one of my all-time favourite films.
We all have Truman Capote, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, to thank for this. The charming and eccentric Holly Golightly is his creation, and who better than Audrey Hepburn to play a character of this description. She manages to be sophisticated and naive at the same time in this role and I think this is my favourite Audrey Hepburn character. Breakfast At Tiffany’s is a refreshingly unique love story that continues to be a modern take on the romance genre.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox & Paramount Pictures