Princess and the Pauper

One of my favourite film scenes is the press conference that Audrey Hepburn, as Princess Ann, attends in the final act of Roman Holiday. Here she follows up her earlier statement that she is aware of her responsibilities to her family and her country, with a remarkable performance that shows her torn between her royal duties and the memories of her escapade with Gregory Peck. Of course, duty prevails and she leaves a heartbroken Peck ruminating on the possibilities of the what-ifs.

Roman Holiday captured the imagination of movie-goers, not only because of the captivating performance of debutante Hepburn, but because it closely paralleled Princess Margaret's ongoing romance with an older divorcé that was frowned upon both by Buckingham Palace and the Church of England. The princess eventually brought the relationship to a close after her advisers misled her into believing that marriage would require her to give up her title.

Her uncle King Edward VIII, on the other hand, had selected affairs of the heart over affairs of the state, and surrendered his throne to marry a twice-divorced American socialite. The passage of time has morphed Edward's abdication into one of the most romantic stories of the twentieth century, but the reality (as perceived in the tumultuous thirties) was less rosy. The general consensus among members of the British Parliament and prime ministers of the Commonwealth countries was one of relief that the union was not ratified, and as it turned out, brought comfort to the English that this pro-Nazi monarch was not at the helm of the British Empire during World War II.

It is said that art imitates life. However, for those who have witnessed Hepburn's Oscar-winning characterisation in Roman Holiday, nothing is more gut-wretchingly real than the dilemma that the young princess portrays on screen. She gives up a lifetime of freedom and happiness to satisfy the archaic demands of the regal station she was born into-- donning a public façade and living vicariously via the expectations of society. Unlike Princess Margaret, she made the right decision for the right reasons. And like Princess Ann, when we face a moral crisis in our lives, it should not take the props of law or religion to realise that the more painful choice is probably the correct one.

I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?
Toil on, sad heart, courageously,
And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee.
Ellen Sturgis Hooper, The Dial

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