Although slightly sketchy on some of the aspects of its subject’s unique qualities as a performer, the Audrey Hepburn documentary Audrey does an admirable job filling in a few blanks in her life story—particularly her childhood, as well as the years after she effectively gave up on acting—and makes it clear that she was a genuinely decent person with loads of insecurities and a unique acting style that made her one of the last examples of an icon from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Born in Belgium but growing up a British citizen, Hepburn was trained as a dancer; her heart was broken when her instructors made it clear she wasn’t good enough and didn’t begin training early enough to become a prima ballerina. The fact that her parents were pro-fascists living in the UK before and during World War II is something that is mentioned but never explored to the extent it clearly could have been. Whatever their lives were like in that time, Hepburn was shipped to the Netherlands for safety’s sake, shortly after her father abandoned the family, an event Hepburn said was the most traumatic in her life.
Directed by Helena Coan (Chasing Perfect), Audrey attempts to draw parallels between these childhood events of being discouraged as a dancer and rejected by her father as influences on her many decisions as an actor and in her personal life. I haven’t seen a great number of her early British work (although The Lavender Hill Mob is a personal favorite), but it’s great to be reintroduced to such classics as Gigi (she originated the role on Broadway; Leslie Caron starred in the film adaptation), Roman Holiday (for which she won an Oscar), Sabrina, War and Peace, Funny Face, My Fair Lady, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Still, I wish the film had taken the time to examine some of her less discussed work like A Nun’s Story, The Children’s Hour, Charade, Robin and Marian, and Wait Until Dark, some of which are mentioned briefly here but rarely explored.
Far more time is spent on Hepburn’s disastrous marriages to actor Mel Ferrer and Italian psychiatrist and notorious philanderer Andrea Dotti, and while those examinations are worthy in driving home the theories that she was in search of the strong male figure in her life that she never got from her father, anything that takes us away from her work seems superfluous. Audrey takes a great deal of time discussing her charitable work on behalf of UNICEF, which is not unexpected, but I do wish it took some space to examine her final film role in Steven Spielberg’s 1989 movie Always (a new interview with her co-star Richard Dreyfuss is part of this doc, but they never specifically talk about this film).
Still, it’s difficult to walk through Hepburn’s life without getting caught up in not just her many wonderful film works, but also her role as a fashion icon, a woman with “the look” that linked her to old Hollywood but with a modern quality that made her the queen of that transitional period during the late ’50s through the 1960s. She seemed both exotic and right at home as the girl next door. Interviews with family members, including son Sean Hepburn Ferrer, do justice to portraying Hepburn as a family-first celebrity, while the rest of the film paints her as giving and strong yet vulnerable. The movie feels too short, but so was her life, and it’s a solid journey through the whirlwind of it all, which she ultimately decided was the wrong speed for her when she sought quiet and stillness in her later years. If you don’t know much about Hepburn, it’s a strong starting point, but hers is a life and career worth digging into more deeply.
The film is available via VOD and digital.
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