Romance and cinema have, through the ages, been like Siamese twins, conjoined to the core. And can there be a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than watch one of these enduring love stories on the screen or at least read about them and walk down memory lane.
One of my most favourite romances has been Roman Holiday, a subtly delightful and awesome story about a journalist and a princess on a visit to the Italian capital.
Created in 1953 – when love between a man and a woman was pure, divine and hardly complicated like such relationships are nowadays, -- Roman Holiday helmed by William Wyler had Gregory peck playing a lazy journalist, forever being chastised by his editor! And the movie introduced Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann on a royal visit to Rome.
Shot at the Cinecitta Studios and around Rome, the film screened at Venice and was a huge hit. Many years later in 1999, Roman Holiday was selected for preservation in the United States by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
That it certainly was. The plot is beautifully simple. Ann is young, adventurous and gets so tired and frustrated with her daily minute-to-minute schedule in Rome that one night she runs out of her country's embassy. Her nurse had given her a sedative so that she can sleep well, and poor Ann, overcome with fatigue and the effect of medication dozes off on a street bench.
As Cupid would have it, Joe Bradley (Peck), an expat reporter working for the American News Service, sees her sleeping, and she looks like she is from a good family. But of course, Bradley does not recognise her, and takes her to his apartment.
The following morning Mr Bluff- Master Bradley walks into his office and details to his editor the princess's press conference. When the boss tells Bradley that the meeting was cancelled because Ann had suddenly fallen ill and shows him picture of the princess.
Heaven seems to fall upon Bradley, who quickly realises that the woman in his apartment is none other than Ann, and he sees a great opportunity to impress his editor and well, become, really famous. After all, how many people would get a chance to have a royal princess sleeping on their bed!
Bradley calls his photographer friend, Irving, and asks him to secretly take pictures of Ann, and Bradley also wangles $ 5000 fee from his boss for an exclusive interview with the princess. The editor knows that his reporter is good for nothing.
What follows is a romantic adventure around Rome. Bradley offers to take Ann on a sightseeing tour on his scooter, but she refuses and leaves to enjoy her freedom. She explores an outdoor market, buys a pair of shoes, observes the people and the daily life of Rome, and gets her long hair cut short.
But Bradley is not one to give up, and follows her and "accidentally" meets Ann on the Spanish Steps. This time, Bradley convinces Ann, and she hops on to his two-wheeler, and they have a great time visiting cafes, Mouth of Truth and the Colosseum, and the all the while Irving keeping clicking some marvellous pictures of a princess on a picnic in Rome riding along with an American reporter!
There are a couple of intimate moments, when Bradley and Ann cuddle and kiss, Rome's romantic air has got them coupled, but Ann knows that she has to return to her royal duties.
The next day, the delayed Press meet is held, and Bradley and Irving are there with the envelope containing the most telling pictures of a princess on the run. When Ann meets the reporters, Bradley hands over the cover, and Ann opens it to find those beautiful photos of her tender time with an American in Rome.
Bradley does not write the interview and does not make the pictures public, losing huge money in the bargain.
But times were different, and an intimate moment was not meant to be uploaded and circulated on the mobile. Bradley was a gentleman and he cherished those wonderful moments with Ann.
Roman Holiday is a fairy tale, but completely believable. Both Hepburn, a shy princess, was a casting coup, and Peck was just the kind of guy with absolute scruples. A huge sum of money was at stake, but Bradley could not betray his beloved.
Richard Curtis paid homage to Roman Holiday in his Notting Hill, and Nanni Moretti probably wanted to do the same in his We Have a Pope.
David Parkinson wrote in 2005: The cynicism and hard-nosed business sense that had shaped Roman Holiday's genesis evaporated once shooting began. Wyler was as enchanted with Hepburn as he was with his glorious locations and, while he indulged his usual passion for retakes, he allowed more improvisation than usual and was rewarded with a film of such freewheeling spontaneity that it became one of Hollywood's biggest international hits of the decade. It also landed 10 Oscar nominations and became such a firm favourite of John F. Kennedy that he watched it as a pressure release at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviets capitulated the next day.”
In short, Roman Holiday, remains till this day an unabashed romantic comedy. Hepburn is radiant, and her girlish charm added to the allure of the movie.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)
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