Audrey Hepburn in the Film My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady is a legendary musical film adaptation based on a play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Show and directed by George Cukor in 1964. This elegant and high-grossing film represents the pinnacle of the film musical as a unique art form and still occupies a significant place in the history of cinema. It won eight Academy Awards, including Director (George Cukor), Cinematography (Harry Stradling), Actor (Rex Harrison), Score (Andre Previn) and Best Picture. It won for Costumes, Sound, and Sets as well. Gladys Cooper and Stanley Holloway have received supporting actor nominations.
The story is based around Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn), a young woman who tries to get out from the gutters of poverty by studying to speak like a lady. This movie reveals two important concepts. On one hand, it shows that there is a gap between the poor and the educated. On the other hand, it demonstrates that one social class is no better than the other social classes. Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison were convincing in their roles and were able to convey this message to the audience.
Audrey Hepburn is known as one of the greatest screen icons of the 20th century. Her performances in such popular films as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, and Charade brought her worldwide fame. Performing in the role of Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, Hepburn demonstrated how masterfully and dramatically she can transform. Bosley Crowther from The New York Times notes that she brought to the film a fine sensitivity of feeling and showed a phenomenal theatrical skills. Her flower girl is an example of the self-assertion of the female sex. When the maids try to plunge her into a bath, she fights with them as a tigress would, refusing to submit to the obscure customs of society which are alien to her (Crowther, 1964).
We have to mention that the casting of Audrey Hepburn caused controversy. In 1956, in the Broadway musical directed by Moss Hart, the role of Eliza was performed by Julie Andrews. Most theater-goers considered that she was brilliantly suited for this role. In addition to this, it was decided that Hepburn’s singing was inappropriate and should be dubbed. But, as James Roman explains, Jack Warner, the head of a studio Warner Brothers and producer of the film, wanted a star whose name was well-recognized to play the role of Eliza Doolittle. Since Julie Andrews was unknown to most movie-going audiences, he gave preference to Audrey Hepburn (Roman, 2009, pp. 125–126). As a result, almost all the songs in the movie were performed by Marni Nixon. The only exception is a song “Just You Wait.” During its harsh-toned choruses Hepburn’s voice was left undubbed, and Nixon sang the melodious bridge sections.
As we see, Audrey Hepburn brilliantly justified the producer’s decision. From a woman with elegant manners and extraordinary beauty she managed to transform into a poor uneducated girl who can not utter the words correctly, always omitting “h.” Linguistic experts’ attempts to teach her how to pronounce words are accompanied by a satiric wit and sharp humor. According to Alex Cox from The Guardian, Hepburn is a strong actress with a great comedic talent (Cox, 2011).
But Audrey Hepburn is a versatile actress. She is a comic in the satiric Ascot scene. She is especially charming and serene at the embassy ball and expressive in the scenes when she finally starts speaking like a lady. She is both funny and charming, trying to achieve the main goal she wants to achieve – the recognition and praise of the man she loves.
For admirers of classic cinema who somehow have not seen My Fair Lady before, this movie will be a pleasant surpise. Although it was shot almost half a century ago, it is still worth watching because of the brilliant actors’ play and poignant humor. Audrey Hepburn, for sure, with her great talent and charming beauty added a feeling of lightness and tenderness to this film.
James Roman: “My Fair Lady”. Bigger than Blockbusters: Movies that Defined America, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2009. – 395 p.
Bosley Crowther: “My Fair Lady (1964). Screen: Lots of Chocolates for Miss Eliza Doolittle: ‘My Fair Lady’ Bows at the Criterion”. The New York Times, October 22, 1964.
William Grimes: “In ‘My Fair Lady,’ Audrey Hepburn Is Singing at Last”. The New York Times, August 15, 1994.
Alex Cox: “Audrey Hepburn: An Iconic Problem”. The Guardian, January 20, 2011.