Known as one of the leading ladies in the Golden Era of Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn epitomised glamour and class in the way she conducted herself onscreen and off. A lady who could do no wrong, there is a reason why Hepburn is truly a cultural icon and this goes beyond her striking features. Winning and Oscar for her debut performance in Roman Holiday as a rebellious princess, Hepburn made her mark in Hollywood instantly carving out a career that shows how consistent and rounded she is as an individual. Even if you haven’t seen her films, you know her face. Ingrained as one of the most important legendary of 20th century cultural icons, Hepburn has become synonymous with the classic Hollywood actress.
Hepburn led a varied career to her showcasing acting, singing, dancing onscreen and then fashion muse, model and UNICEF ambassador offscreen. She has been one of my personal inspirations for many years and one of my favourite actresses of all time.
In celebration of a brilliant and legendary career, here are my top 5 films for the one and only, Audrey Hepburn!
The list (as always) is in chronological order:
Roman Holiday (1953)
The one that started her career off with a bang and an Oscar. Hepburn plays Ann, a Princess who is visiting Rome as part of her royal tour who escapes in the middle of the night to experience life as a normal person. She stumbles across cynical journalist, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and the two spend a day visiting the famous landmarks across the city. Despite being filmed in black and white, the film manages to show us the colourful world of Rome. It’s a film that feels very revolutionary in many ways. From filming on location in Rome (sacrificing a full colour film) and Peck’s insistence that Hepburn receive an equal billing for her performance. Roman Holiday is the perfect film to watch when feeling nostalgic for Old School Hollywood. The chemistry between Peck and Hepburn is evident from the get go and it’s great to see Hepburn playing such a rebellious character who is hugely reluctant to slot into her role as a Princess.
This is not by any means a popular film beyond the costume designs. It received mixed reviews upon release and tales of the troubled production mainly at the hands of leading man Humphrey Bogart who was consumed by his alcoholism but there is something that is magical to me with Hepburn’s performance in this film. Playing the titular role in this Billy Wilder romance, Hepburn is the daughter of a chauffeur who lives within the estate of a wealthy Larrabee family. She is shipped off to Paris to learn cookery and comes back glamorous and catches the eye of the two wealthy Larrabee sons, the older serious brother, Linus (Bogart) and the young and handsome David (William Holden). It’s a classic Cinderella-esque story with a bit of Pygmalion thrown in and I really love the result personally. I won’t deny that the costumes play a big role because of the history that it sparked the beginning of Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s lifetime friendship and collaboration although Edith Head ultimately received credit for the designs and received the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. But ultimately it is the simplicity and elegance of this film that draws me to it and I am a big fan of Wilder’s direction.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
I don’t think it would be possible not to include this on the list. A film that gives not only one of Hepburn’s best performances but also a revolutionary and cultural shift in modern cinema. Based on Truman Capote’s novella of the same name, Hepburn plays protagonist Holly Golightly, a socialite who leads her life carelessly as she shimmies down the street and eats pastries at the windows of Tiffany’s & Co. The film carries a different tone to the book as Holly’s prostitution, alcoholism, drug-use and bisexuality are shunned almost completely and are very briefly referred to at various points. Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly is far from the Marilyn Monroe figure that Capote had pictured in mind when writing the novella but it works for the film. It may not be a faithful adaptation as far as characterisation goes but it captures the struggle to achieve the American Dream beautifully and shows a woman who is willing to do what it takes to achieve security in a world that is cynical and shut off from those who aren’t afforded it at birth.
Hepburn is teamed up with Hollywood superstar Cary Grant in this thriller that sees Hepburn play Reggie Lampert, a woman whose life is thrown into chaos as her estranged husband, Charles, is murdered and her belongings are sold off. She is pursued by three criminals who are seeking revenge after Charles stole money from them years before. With the help of Peter Joshua (Grant), an American whose brother was also killed by the same men, they embark on a search for the money. The film becomes a spiral as Peter reveals identity after identity and Reggie becomes less and less sure who to trust. It also shows another side of Hepburn as she hasn’t done many thriller or action films before. As Peter is telling us of his many identities, Reggie keeps her cards close to her chest with Hepburn giving an equally layered performance.
My Fair Lady (1964)
This may be a controversial choice as it’s widely known that Hepburn didn’t sing in her role as Eliza Doolittle in this musical adaptation of George Bernard-Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion that follows the working-class Doolittle as she is taken under the wing of linguist, Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who is convinced that he can teach her to talk “proper” and introduce her into high society. There is something remarkable about seeing some so polished as Hepburn playing someone like Eliza which is so different to her other roles. Many critics were disapproving of Hepburn having her singing dubbed but the role of Eliza is much more than her voice, ironically. Hepburn truly becomes Eliza, her physicality and poise is spot on and who can forget the iconic racetrack scene. It’s a film that shows Hepburn’s skill in a more comical film than her other roles and you can tell that she is having a lot of fun in the role.
There are so many other brilliant performances that I haven’t had the chance to include but in a career that is so fantastic, it really was a challenge.
Which Audrey Hepburn films are your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!