Fanfare, freedom and fun

Since watching Roman Holiday* I can’t help feeling it must have had an influence on Queen Elizabeth II.  Everyone watched popular movies in the 1950s.  I’m sure the Palace had masses of screenings for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Or maybe they slipped out, incognito, to the Odeon,  Leicester Square.

Roman Holiday deals with celebrity and public image.  Through the eyes of the young, fictional, Princess Ann we see the difficulties and restrictions of being a head of state; always in the public eye. In the opening scenes Hepburn’s character is compared to the British royals of the time; to the British Queen’s younger sister Princess Margaret, who was something of a dissenter; preferring unpredictable commonplace experiences rather than the strictures of public service. The film’s opening scenes include montaged, actual, footage of state visits in Europe and a voice-over tells  how they improved trade relations.

In 1980 when Princess Margaret visited a Haberdashers’ School in Cheshire, during a tour of the Science rooms, she told me, as a journalist, how her children would rush up and down carpeted areas to create static electricity before coming over to give her a slightly electrifying kiss. This liking for simple everyday experience was felt as an emotional need by the princess in Roman Holiday.  As a reverse Cinderella story audiences are able to empathise with the heroine’s longings even though her life was far removed from theirs.

After Roman Holiday Audrey Hepburn was seen as the movie actress to be cast in parts dealing with transformation through Fashion.  She was not perceived as a Hollywood starlet plugged into the general 50s dynamic.  She carried her own romantic mystique a more elaborate, European, mythology with her.  Although she was seen as a Hollywood product, a Paramount Studio property, she only ever owned homes in Europe. Far from socialising with the movie glitterati she used her influence to fight for children’s rights.  At 16 years of age she danced, in secret, to raise money for the Dutch resistance to the Nazis.  Remembering the subterfuge and fear of the time, she said, ‘the best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance’. Princess Elizabeth drove army vehicles as part of the war effort in England and married Prince Philip a serving naval officer. Their lives were lived in similar times and contexts.

The admiration audiences felt in the movie for Princess Ann, when she gave up the fun and the freedoms of being with the charming American journalist, Gregory Peck, to return to her European regal duties is the same respect many  feel for the current Queen of England.  She would  probably much rather be an aristocratic horse breeder than the person having weekly political meetings with twelve different Prime Ministers, even if one  was Tony Blair!


*  
http://www.hud.ac.uk/staff/fashionintheageoftheimage.php

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