Beauty and the Beast:

The Differences Between Eliza Doolittle in the Play
and the Movie

     Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion is more enjoyable than its 1964 movie adaptation My Fair Lady by George Cukor. This is so because the character Eliza Doolittle is glamorized too much in the film version; on the contrary, the play exhibits both a more realistic and humble version of the flower girl. These differences can be strongly exemplified in the opening and closing scenes of both works.

     Shaw provides a realistic version of Eliza in the opening scenes by vivid descriptions of her unflattering appearance. The reader is told that Eliza is "not at all attractive," and that her hair "needs washing rather badly..." It is also added that she "needs the services of a dentist." Shaw also provides several lines of Eliza's Cockney English to enhance her unfavorable atmosphere. By noting these opening descriptions, the reader not only feels compassion for young Eliza, but also he or she greatly appreciates the effort Henry Higgins sets forth in Eliza's make-over.

     Shaw maintains this image throughout the movie, and this can be seen in the moments after the ball. She displays her true feelings, and the viewer can see that she is truly hurt. Also, she follows her intuitions like the average woman and, as Shaw's afterword makes plain, marries the less demanding, simpler Freddy rather than Higgins. By Eliza displaying a realistic appearance and partaking simple actions, the audience can better appreciate her.

     Cukor's movie provides a more idealistic version Eliza. Played by Audrey Hepburn, the pitiful flower girl in the beginning looks more like a beauty queen dressed in second-hand clothing. She seems too polished to be a peddler in the streets of London. Also, her Cockney accent is awful in that it sounds more civilized than what the viewer would expect. This poor opening illustration of Eliza would turn the viewer off if he or she had witnessed or read the script from Pygmalion.

     The ending also boasts an idealized Eliza. She does not seem as sincere in her feelings as the play describes, and she seems very noble and dignified when put under pressure. Another scene that sets apart the two Elizas is Hepburn's character deciding to stay with Higgins (Rex Harrison) and living a stuffy life of perfect phonetics and social behavior.

     The difference between the Eliza in the play and Eliza in the movie is that the former is much more realistic than the latter; consequently, the audience tends to sympathize and appreciate the Pygmalion Eliza than the My Fair Lady Eliza.

Adam Thompson

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