10 August 2010

Mimsy-Mumsy Eliza Doolittle

The other day in The Telegraph, the occasionally too blunt actress Emma Thompson was interviewed about an upcoming remake of My Fair Lady that she's been asked to write. She took this as an opportunity to offer her take on the 1964 version of the musical.
I was thrilled to be asked to do it because, having a look at it, I thought that there needs to be a new version. I'm not hugely fond of the film. I find Audrey Hepburn fantastically twee. Twee is whimsy without wit. It's mimsy-mumsy sweetness without any kind of bite. And that's not for me. She can't sing and she can't really act, I'm afraid. I'm sure she was a delightful woman - and perhaps if I had known her I would have enjoyed her acting more, but I don't and I didn't, so that's all there is to it, really.
The internet consensus so far seems to be a collective "yeeesh."  It's no secret that Audrey Hepburn struggled with the role from the outset. The young, bankable, glamorous actress was given the part of Eliza Doolittle over Julie Andrews who originated the role on broadwasy with Rex Harrison for a then-absurd paycheck of $1 million. Then, about halfway into production, the decision was made that the world would not be hearing Audrey Heburn's voice in any of the musical numbers. (Audrey was rumored to have stormed off the set when she heard the news. She came back sheepishly the next day with cookies for all to apologize for her behavior, though.) The final version of the film shows Audrey Hepburn lip synching to Marni Nixon's voice. If that wasn't insult enough My Fair Lady ended up winning 8 Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, Sound, Original Score, Art Direction, and Costume Design).  Best Actress that year went to Julie Andrews who took on the role of Mary Poppins after being passed over for Eliza Doolittle.  Audrey wasn't even nominated.*

This is all to say that we all kind of already knew that Audrey hadn't done the best job as Eliza, but we just don't like to bring it up all that often because she was so freaking beautiful, and she died sort of young, and she always just seemed like such a good person, and obviously, 8 Academy Awards later, My Fair Lady wasn't completely ruined by a less than perfect lead. She even criticized her own performances (“I probably hold the distinction of being one movie star who, by all laws of logic, should never have made it. At each stage of my career, I lacked the experience”), and Humphrey Bogart often felt the need to tell the press how much of an amateur she was. Both Audrey and the world seemed painfully aware of her shortcomings.

So was Emma Thompson's remark unfair? Probably not, but it's also not the most becoming thing to say about a film that many remember quite fondly. If you are going to do a remake of a cherished (though flawed) classic, it's probably best not to alienate your built-in audience.

*All of this information comes to you from an unhealthy 6th, 7th, and 8th grade obsession with Audrey Hepburn.

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