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Audrey Hepburn: going behind the beauty

Film charting the glittering life and times of a Hollywood icon offers an insight into mid-20th century consumerism, beauty and feminism

27 November, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Audrey, a Hollywood tale with a happy ending

Directed by Helena Coan
Certificate: PG

WATCHING the talking heads express what made Audrey Hepburn such a stand-out star from Hollywood’s Golden Era is not just interesting for the usual platitudes from those who got what made her tick.

There is also the unsaid influence she has had on those Audrey experts – we watch a number of women appear, who all seem to be channelling their inner Audreys through their choice of hairstyle.

This is a film charting her life and times for the movie buff, the fashionista, the fan of choreography.

But it is more than just one person’s story, however glittering that tale maybe. Instead, it gives us an insight into mid-20th century consumerism, beauty, and ideas of feminism at the time.

It is artistically beautiful – from Audrey’s grace to the clothes made by Givenchy for her roles, it’s hard not to admire the art history the film covers.

And of course it has a dramatic narrative.

Her parents were Nazis. Her mother, a Dutch aristocrat called Baroness Ella van Heemstra, wrote horrendous articles backing Hitler. Her Austrian-British father, who had been a consul in the Dutch East Indies, would visit Germany to join Nazi rallies: they settled in Brussels, where her father raised funds for Oswald Mosley. In 1935, he walked out on his family.

“It was a trauma that left very deep mark on me,” she said.

Aged 10, Audrey was dumped alone in Holland in September 1939. Her childhood was one of hunger and sheltering in bombed-out basements. It would stay with her for the rest of her life, and lead her to dedicate her later years to humanitarian causes.

Frustratingly, we hear little more of her parents, nor how Audrey reacted to their fascism.

After the war, we follow her to London, where she trained as a ballet dancer, but the lean years had set her back physically.

Eventually she joined choruses and got bit parts in film.

Then we are taken through her being discovered, winning an Oscar for Roman Holiday, the Hollywood years, her relationships and her particular skill set as a performer.

This Hollywood tale has a happy ending – Audrey would become a full-time Unicef ambassador. As her son says: “She showed mother’s love around the world. It was a way of healing.”


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