• Golden Globe Awards

“Roman Holiday” – 70th Anniversary

It’s the film that made the world fall in love with Audrey Hepburn and want to buy a Vespa.  William Wyler‘s 1953 Roman Holiday has met brilliantly the test of time and this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.
The movie is like a love letter to the heart of the Italian capital, Rome, its past glory and the pre-Dolce Vita on Via Veneto era, putting it on the map for international productions to be filmed there.
A romantic comedy, starring Hepburn and Gregory Peck, it tells the story of British Princess Ann, entrusted with a “European tour”, who escapes her official duties for a day and has a chance encounter in Rome with an American journalist named Joe Bradley (Peck). Bradley needs a scoop; she needs to get away from her stiff duties. During a day on a Vespa in the streets of the Eternal City the odd pair start falling for each other. The film is widely regarded as a classic of its genre and has had an enduring legacy throughout the years.
Sean Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer’s son, met the HFPA for its “Roundtable Series” to talk about her mother, Roman Holiday and its 70th Anniversary, and had a lot to recall.  “Tony Peck, Gregory’s son, organized a screening of Roman Holiday on a big screen at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome a few years back,” Ferrer said.

“They closed all the streets around Piazza di Spagna, and we all sat there, the children sitting on the sidewalks. And I saw for the first time in my life Roman Holiday on a big screen. And now here we are. It’s the 70th anniversary this year. Being the curator of Audrey’s image and her exhibitions, I’ve seen mom’s films a million times. And I must tell, this experience was something special.”

Roman Holiday received 11 Oscar nominations in 1954, and won three, for Hepburn as Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Writing (Dalton Trumbo, freshly out of the “blacklist” – writer Ian McLellan ghosted him during the production), and Best Costume Design (Edith Head). Hepburn also won a Golden Globe as Best Actress – Drama that same year. Hepburn’s career flourished after Roman Holiday, and she went on to star in several other iconic films, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady.
The film’s other major star, Gregory Peck, also delivered a memorable performance as the witty and charming journalist Joe Bradley. His chemistry with Hepburn was palpable, and their on-screen romance was both believable and endearing. Peck’s career also benefited from the success of Roman Holiday, and he went on to star in several other acclaimed films, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Guns of Navarone.
In addition to its impact on the film industry, Roman Holiday also made a lasting impression on popular culture. The film’s romantic storyline, charming characters, and idyllic setting have made it a beloved classic, and it continues to be referenced and parodied in popular media. For example, the film’s iconic scene in which Ann and Joe ride a Vespa through the streets of Rome has been recreated in countless other films and television shows, including the popular sitcom Friends and more recently White Lotus 2, shot in Taormina, Sicily. The film’s enduring popularity has also inspired several stage adaptations and even a musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2017.

“My mother’s relationship with Rome was sort of a complicated one because she started going there with her parents,” Sean Ferrer recalls. “She kept going back to Rome, but things didn’t work out and she was assaulted by paparazzi after she became famous. But I think she always felt very much at home in Rome, because it’s been part of her life throughout and she loved to go walk into the historic center or go shopping for food and things. I think Roman Holiday and Rome are sort of superimposing each other in a way that they can no longer be extricated.”
Another legacy of Roman Holiday is its impact on the representation of women in film. The film’s portrayal of Princess Ann as a strong, independent woman who defies convention and follows her heart was groundbreaking for its time. In an era when women were often depicted as passive, submissive, and subservient to men, “Roman Holiday” offered a refreshing alternative. The film’s message of female empowerment and self-determination has resonated with audiences throughout the years and has helped to pave the way for more nuanced and complex portrayals of women in film.
“My mother’s legacy is one of style and elegance,” says Ferrer. “But I think the five years she spent as UNICEF ambassador at the end of her life are the sort of third pillar of her legacy.  And I think that was the legacy she was proudest of.”