Roman Holiday, directed by William Wyler, is possibly one of the best romantic comedies of the twentieth century. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as the touring European royal, Princess Ann. Her co-star, Gregory Peck, plays the American reporter, Joe Bradley. While on her tour of Rome, Princess Ann essentially has a mental break down about the “wholesome” values that she is forced to adhere to, as well as the tiresome schedule that she must follow day in and day out. Running away from the palace, Princess Ann runs into an American journalist that is desperate for a fresh story. In order to capture the princesses scandalous story without her knowledge, Joe pretends to be chemical salesmen. Princess Ann spends her Roman Holiday, smoking her first cigarette, eating gelato, cutting off her luscious hair, and crashing a Vespa. All the while, Joe begins to fall in love with the princess’s energetic spirit and begins to feel hesitant about leaking her story.
One of the key elements of Aristotle’s view of a comedy, is that it must be a story of the rise of fortune for a sympathetic central character. In the case of Roman Holiday, both of the central characters experience this. Though Princess Ann lives a seemingly lavish life, on the inside, she struggles with the pressures of conformity. By spending time with Joe, Princess Ann is exposed to the simple pleasures of life. By the end of the film, Hepburn’s character has gained a more worldly view and has a newly hopeful outlook on life. Joe Bradley undergoes a similar transformation. At the start of the film, Joe is in dire need of a scandalous newspaper story that will elevate his reputation and get him out of debt. Just before Joe is about to leak this exposing piece of journalism, he realizes that his emerging love for Princess Ann is worth much more. Though he does not rise in fame or status in the eyes of his fellow reporters, the audience can perceive that Joe is ultimately appeased and proud of his decision.
Unlike the traditional Shakespearean comedy, this particular film does not end with marriage or a relationship of any sort. This peculiar and heart-wrenching ending adds to the nuance and the brilliance of the comedy. The ending does not fit the typical cliche format of many popular romantic comedies. The realism of the ending provides unique a substantive quality to the story line. In essence, the director does not prioritize the romantic story line over Princess Ann’s sense of duty and responsibility to her position. Joe’s character even has respect for Ann’s choice to return to the crown, and resume her duties. This mutual recognition and acknowledgment for one another, makes the film even more valuable. And though the audience is left disappointed that their relationship does not succeed, the film leaves the audience with an image of a healthy relationship in mind. In many ways, Princess Ann’s return to the throne provides a feminist undertone. Instead of completely falling for her “prince charming”, Ann dutifully sacrifices her relationship, and returns home.
Not all aspects of this comedy surround romance though. What makes this film even more unique, is that it integrates comedy into dramatic, emotional, and action-packed scenes. Earlier in the film, Joe was forced to go to comedic measures to get the, accidentally-over medicated, Princess back home. When one of the members of the royal guard attempted to take Princess Ann back to the palace, Hepburn’s character retaliates by smashing a guitar over his head. These small and quirky scenes may not add to a larger theme about society, but they do provide an unparalleled level of entertainment.