For a perfect pairing of leads and location it’s hard to find examples to rival 1953's Roman Holiday. The centrepiece is Audrey Hepburn as the wayward princess on the town, her always entrancing, genuine reactions could breathe life into a cardboard set. But the environs of Rome reflect another glory back, the personality in the fountains and extras lounging in the outdoor cafes establish a powerful chemistry with the actress. Gregory Peck as her perfect gentleman, love interest stands as our point of view and, like him, mostly our participation amounts to watching in wonder.
Whether she’s commandeering a Vespa for a mad ride through cafe tables or smashing a guitar over a sinister black suit, it’s always nice to see Miss Hepburn. It’s never clear exactly what country she’s a princess of but there’s no mistaking what country she’s in. Where else can the divine and the every day combine so effortlessly? It’s easy to imagine a man like Peck’s character, stumbling upon an innocent girl, in a drug induced slumber on a public bench, and having no desire but to assist her—and maybe get her off his hands.
How very little actually happens in this film. You have the trope of the inexperienced ruler, masquerading as a commoner with the help of an attractive rogue, not unlike Aladdin or The Thief of Bagdad. But there’s no pressure for the plot to make the princess learn a lesson about respecting the lower class, there’s no pressure for Peck and Hepburn to end up together. As much as we might like that, the realism of them not ending up together makes the subtle bittersweetness all the more effective.
All we need, really, is to spend a little time with Audrey Hepburn in Rome.