Director: William Wyler
Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) doesn't have a life of her own. She's shuttled from one diplomatic engagement to another, where her speech, appearance, and behavior need to be impeccable. It's as if she's a Miss Universe contestant every day, all day long, delivering rehearsed lines and looking beautiful in the face of intense scrutiny.
Sometimes she wishes she could live more freely.
When her royal good will tour winds up in Rome, she decides to do what the people of Rome do: sit in cafés, eat gelato, endanger pedestrians with their reckless driving, and go dancing in the evening. While under the influence of a sedative she escapes one night from her royal keepers with the intention of only exploring Rome for an hour or two. Instead she winds up in the hands of an American journalist, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who at first doesn't realize that she's a princess. In fact he thinks she's drunk, and is impressed and bewildered by the fact that she can quote from her favorite poems and regally dismiss him from his own tiny apartment when she's half-asleep.
Joe realizes only after a hilarious conversation with his editor that the woman he sheltered for the night is Princess Ann. While her (nameless) country sends agents to Rome to comb the city looking for her, an announcement is made that the princess is ill and can't appear in public. This gives Ann a little extra time to enjoy Rome incognito, and it gives Joe the opportunity to make money by writing an exclusive story on the truant princess and her exploration of everyday life. He doesn't tell Ann who he is (mumbling something about selling chemicals and fertilizers for a living - in other words, journalistic dung?) and watches her as she gets a haircut, visits historic sites, buys a pair of sandals, tries her first cigarette, gets arrested for reckless driving, and dances by the river.
While Joe is honorable enough not to take advantage of an anonymous young woman who needs a place to stay for a night, as a journalist there's little he won't do for a juicy story, including trying to take a camera away from a child in order to secretly photograph Ann. He winds up enlisting his friend and photographer, Irving (Eddie Albert), who says at one point, "It's always open season on princesses."
But what Joe doesn't count on is him and Ann falling in love.
Roman Holiday is a delightful film. It's more funny than I thought it would be. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck are wonderful to watch and well-suited for their roles; there's chemistry and playful friendship between them. And on top of that we get to see Rome; one breath-taking moment that stood out for me was a shot of the Coliseum that showed just how enormous it is.
Then there's the ending, which I thought was crafted beautifully, including those final moments when Joe is walking towards the exit in the grand hall where the press conference was held. The hall looms large and empty behind him. Maybe, just maybe, against all hope, he'll have a happy reason to turn around. There's a feeling of expectancy and possibility, a breath being held, up until the moment when he reaches the exit.
*All images link back to their sources (Flixster Community and Rotten Tomatoes).