Pygmalion and My Fair Lady: A Question of Authenticity

        Having read George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 work Pygmalion, everyone has one’s own imagination how people could look like or how the atmosphere has to be. If you are confronted with a movie of the work, you either like it or not. But in case of Pygmalion, there is not only one movie, there are two: the 1938 Pygmalion movie by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard or the movie My Fair Lady of the director George Cukor in 1964. One has to admit that My Fair Lady is not only a movie; it is a musical, too. Therefore, one is confronted with a quite big amount of impressions; and, if one wants to decide which of the movies is better, most people’s decision depends on the authenticity of the movie.

        If the question of authenticity is posed, the 1938 movie is certainly the one, which is closer to the play, even if certain details are changed. One argument is that this movie showed the places, which were also described in the play. When Mr. Higgins wants to try Eliza’s new accent out for the first time, he brings her to his mother’s house and not to a horse race where his mother is in My Fair Lady. Alterations like that always destroy a certain atmosphere which one imagined in the book.

        Moreover, the characters were changed in a way that the person of Clara Eynsford Hill was completely left out in the musical. Although she does not play a major role in the work, she contributes something to the movie, especially to the situation at the beginning when they are standing at St. Paul’s church, waiting for Freddy getting a cab. Her dislike for lower classes and doing things of the lower class–for example walking in the rain–becomes pretty obvious from the beginning. Therefore, I think she should not be left out.

        Finally, I have to admit that concerning authenticity, I prefer the 1938 film of Pygmalion because, even if the ending is changed, the film makers were able to convey the emotions and the atmosphere, which a reader expects. I do not want to say that I do not like musicals because I adore them very much: On the stage. After having seen musicals like The Fearless Vampire Killers back in Germany, I think they are something that should stay on the stage because it has a completely different influence on the visitor sitting there and feeling the emotions of the actors with their voices at that moment.

Corinna Witkowski