Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s been at least a decade, and probably longer, since I last saw Roman Holiday. I remember loving it, but not much about it. There was the famous scooter through the Coliseum scene that came to mind, but not much else. Fast forward to tonight. My sweetie was feeling a bit under the weather, and wanted a comfort film. Roman Holiday came up a choice, and, being the Hepburn fan I am, I eagerly agreed. Lise is a huge Peck fan ( and who, including me, doesn’t love Peck ), so I thought this would be a quid pro quo.
The first thing I noticed was the opening credits. ‘And Introducing Audrey Hepburn’. A quick check of her filmography reaveals eight previous credits, but, never near a starring role. Peck, of course, was already an iconically reliable leading man.
If I had only a word to describe Audrey Hepburn, it would have to be ‘grace’. The opening scene, as the dignitaries are brought before the princess for introductions, her regal nods and refined comments exude a elegance that I don’t think can be taught, it has to be born to.
The small touch of the shoe telegraphs volumes without the need for a single word. This is the brilliance of Dalton Trumbo’s genre besting story and his and Ian McLellan’s fluent screenplay. It’s as if Hepburn and the words on the page are one and the same; a synergy of word and flesh.
Although Hepburn is the star, veteran Peck orbits her with a dashing charm and comedic timing that I hadn’t previously or since seen him demonstrate. Clearly, this was supposed to be Cary Grant, and I’ve heard Grant was who they had in mind, but so impressive is Peck’s transformation that I wonder why he never pursued comedy afterwards. He has such a natural comedic flair.
Speaking of comedic aptitude, Eddie Albert, as Peck’s photographer friend and sometimes foil clearly demonstrates his deep comedic roots. His character has the perfect mix of self interest and haplessness.
I think the reason that Roman Holiday works so well is that it plays against itself. The set point is cold hearted self interest; a self interest that would be ruinous to our gentle princess who only wants to sip a brief taste of life before her honor-bound duty claws her back. If played slightly differently, the audience would be left fretting, but they’re not. This is where and why Peck shines. Even before their first encounter, we know he’s honorable and reliable, even if somewhat irascible. Here, I think it’s his thespian baggage of honesty and integrity seals the deal.
The final nod has to go back to Douglas Trumbo, though. He bucked the formulaic ending that the genre so demands, and that makes the film a masterpiece.
Here’s looking at you, kid.