I do not believe there is anyone out there that doesn’t admire Audrey Hepburn, if only a little. Some perhaps know her best as the spunky ‘Liza Doolittle, the cockney flower-girl often heard twittering a happy tune. For others, her name conjures up a crystalline image of a young lady walking down Fifth Avenue, armed with an impressive pair of oversized sunglasses and wearing that unmistakable “little black dress”. And for others still, Audrey Hepburn is the tireless humanitarian, appointed in 1988 as UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador, and serving until her untimely death five years later.
From my title you can probably gather than I am no exception to the rule. I have spoken already about seeing Audrey in Roman Holiday for the first time and how very profound an effect it had on me as a young girl. It wouldn’t actually be wrong to say that it was my first truly thrilling cinematic experience; I was just thoroughly enthralled, so utterly lost in a world which had once been quite foreign to me. With Audrey though, it felt like I had always known this world and this life; I understood it as if it were my own.
I suppose the question to ask now is simply why.
Why is it that I, along with so many others over the years, have been so completely captivated by this rather unconventional actress? Audrey Hepburn appeared in no more than thirty feature films throughout her life, and starred in her last more than thirty years ago; by all standards we should’ve forgotten her a long time ago. Yet we, of course, have most definitely not.
On a purely superficial level, the answer is quite simple. Miss Hepburn was beautiful, likeable and spectacularly lucky. Throughout her career, Audrey consistently chose wisely (and was consistently given the chance to do so). She played in romantic comedies with an effortless elegance, took on board the Tiffany tale just when the 60s started to swing, and rode the last of the musical craze with her role in My Fair Lady.
Audrey also had perhaps the most unbeatable trail of leading men who starred opposite her. One cannot forget that these were not merely talented actors with whom she shared a scene, but almost exclusively full-out legends: Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Henry Fonda, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant… the list goes on.
However, to pin her status of 20th century icon down as simply a case of savvy career choices and agreeable costars would be terrifically foolish. Audrey Hepburn was so very much more. Behind a face to die for and a style entirely of her own, Audrey Hepburn possessed something innately special. She shone in both the real world and the reflection of it, the silver screen, with an unbreakable warmth; a generosity of spirit that shone from her very eyes.
Within this warmth there was also a aching drop of tragedy. As a young girl she grew up without a father, and suffered through the great hardships of the Second World War like countless others of her generation. Although she dreamed of being a prima ballerina, Audrey grew too tall, and was simply not strong enough after years of malnutrition during her teenage years. Knowing that she could not fulfil her hopes of being the very greatest a person was capable of in the shoes of a dancer, Hepburn changed her course to become an exceptional actress. The rest, as well all know, is simply history.
Unlike most stars, I think there is not one set film of Audrey’s that stands out better than the rest, for it is her entire body of work shapes our understanding of this actress. Each film is a classic in its own right, and each embodies a particular facet of character which made her so distinctively wonderful.
The culmination of all this is a figure who continues to inspire. Audrey Hepburn, and the characters she played, was by no means perfect, but endures in our hearts because of precisely that. Her determination, strength and unfailing goodness are not something to admire from a distance, but things we can readily achieve if only we give ourselves the chance.