Sometimes Hollywood and its British counterpart just cannot leave well enough alone. They take artistic license and change some of the most integral parts of the literary works they adapt to film. If the producers and directors were changing inconsequential details, perhaps that could be forgiven or even overlooked. However, some film makers go way past changing the name of the dog in a story.
Perhaps the greatest example of this unbridled artistic negligence can be seen in the two cinematic adaptations of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion. The ending changes in a critical manner in both the 1938 Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and in the 1964 My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor. In both of these film adaptations, Eliza goes back to Henry in the end. This ending is not only unacceptable but also destroys the credibility of the film and the integrity of Eliza's character. Throughout the story, we see the transformation of Eliza from an unkempt flower girl, devoid of manners, culture, and proper linguistic ability, to a beautiful, cultured, lady--proper enough to convince anyone that might cross her path that she is of royal descent.
Through these changes in the way she acts and speaks, Eliza develops self-confidence and a sense of self-worth. She now seems to understand that she is a valuable person on the inside and a beautiful woman on the outside. However, she seems to be the only one who fully comprehends this metamorphosis. Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland/Wilfrid Hyde-White) and Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) both witness this transformation, yet neither seem fully aware of Eliza's value as a person rather than a project. She becomes a confident woman, and Higgins does not appreciate her at all.
There is absolutely no reason for Eliza to go back to Higgins. She certainly has no lack of suitors, as poor Freddy (David Tree/ Jeremy Brett) would marry her in a heartbeat. Shaw did not write Pygmalion as a romance, but Hollywood and its British clone have to have it. What they did, however, is inexcusable. Eliza's return to Henry in
the two films has two critical flaws. One, it suggests a romance between Higgins and Eliza, which Shaw never intended, destroying the point behind the story. Two, it turns Eliza from a budding flower whom everyone wants to cheer for into little more than Henry's puppet. Eliza's character is strong, and to send her back into Henry's arms not only makes her weak, but changes the entire feel and meaning of the story.