Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Megxit: Will Harry and Meg Take a Canadian Holiday?

Day after day, the shocking headlines are rolling out of Great Britain, and they don’t have anything to do with Brexit. Harry and Meghan (last names unnecessary) are giving up their status as senior royals! They’re planning to spend a good part of their time overseas (likely in Canada, where Meghan’s grandmother-in-law’s picture is still on the money)! They want to earn their own living (imagine that!) and make their own rules! They no long want to be called by their “royal highness” titles! (I don’t suppose “your royal lowness” is under consideration.)

I’m sure it’s all heartbreaking for Queen Elizabeth and for fans of British traditionalism, of which the U.S. has many. From afar it looks like an easy gig to be a royal: you dress beautifully, visit hospitals, and wave with your fingers stuck together. But from my brief experience at being a semi-celebrity—when I was one of 56 U.S. pavilion guides at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan—I know that it can prove exhausting to be constantly the center of attention. Good behavior at all times is hardly natural or easy. And Meghan’s outsider status has certainly left her wide open to a press that is always on the lookout for snarky scoops.

In any case, the situation naturally set me to thinking about movies in which young royals chafe under the pressures they face. Little girls may still want to grow up to be princesses. (Even, I’m told, William and Kate’s daughter Charlotte has this fantasy, notwithstanding the fact that she is a princess for real.) The movies, especially Disney fare like Frozen and the Princess Diaries franchise, certainly encourage royalty-envy. But the whole situation of a princess struggling to accept the demands of her royal status takes me back a long way to 1953, and Audrey Hepburn’s first major film, the delightful Roman Holiday.

The story of Roman Holiday, which was filmed on location in the Eternal City, is simplicity itself. The young Princess Anne, representing some unnamed European country, is on a state visit to Rome. She’s beautiful and poised . . . and unspeakably bored by all the pomp and circumstance surrounding her visit. That’s why she sneaks out of her royal quarters . . . and finds herself in the company of an ambitious reporter, Gregory Peck, who at first sees in her the potential for a terrific journalistic coup. Soon, of course, he’s charmed by her innocent delight in common pleasures, like eating an ice cream cone in public and zooming through the twisty streets of Rome on a Vespa motorbike. It’s  not long before she’s having her long royal locks shorn into a modern style and gotten herself involved in a good old-fashioned fracas that prompts the arrival of the carabinieri. And, of course, she’s come very close to falling in love. The end of the film (as I’m sure everyone has anticipated) is a return to the basic status quo: Anne is back doing her royal duty, and Peck’s character is again no more than a member of the press corps. But while life as a commoner has subtly changed her, her vibrant enthusiasm has softened Peck’s cynical approach to life. It’s a quietly happy ending, particularly for Hepburn, who went home with a Best Actress Oscar.

This movie also won Oscars for Edith Head’s costumes and for its witty screenplay. The latter statuette was presented to Ian McLellan Hunter, who was in fact fronting for the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. It took forty years for the late Trumbo to be acknowledged as the film’s true author.

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