My Fair Lady: Appreciating the Cockney Accent

        I enjoyed George Cukor’s 1964 version of My Fair Lady, a musical film adaptation of the 1956 Lerner and Loewe stage musical My Fair Lady, which in turn was based on the 1938 film adaptation of the original 1913 stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. I loved the casting of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza. I also enjoyed Dr. Pickering as played by Wilfrid Hyde-White, although he was older than I had pictured the character to be in my head while reading My Fair Lady and Pygmalion. Audrey Hepburn, on the other hand, played Eliza Doolittle exactly as I had imagined: annoying and not too bright, but still determined and good-hearted. I was especially pleased with her dialect.

        I am in a theatre class that is teaching me several dialects for stage use, Cockney and standard R.P. English being two of the accents we have learned so far. For this reason, reading these plays that key in on these dialects held great interest for me. I felt so educated when Henry Higgins (played in the 1964 film by Rex Harrison) held up his notebook and it was all written in IPA symbols. Eliza said she could not read it, and I bet the students in our class (other than the other two students who are in the dialects class with me) would not be able to read it either, but I recognized some of them. The geek in me thought it was cool to see something I had just learned in class in “the real world.”

        I was impressed with Audrey Hepburn’s Cockney dialect. I do not know how well she already spoke upper class English, but Cockney is difficult to get down, I know. I only wished we had watched this film before my class had to take the oral exam. Hearing it spoken, something we do not really hear in America, would have been a great help.

Maggie Gardner