Eliza Doolittle Comes to Life

Through Audrey Hepburn's Acting

     There are several reasons why I believe that Audrey Hepburn was the perfect choice to play Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion. While watching My Fair Lady, I began to realize that choosing actors and actresses for a film is not an easy job. I feel Eliza Doolittle came to life through the acting of Audrey Hepburn by the way she portrayed Eliza's strong will and determination as she metamorphosed from a Cockney flower girl into an upper-class lady.

     As anyone who has tried to speak a foreign language knows, it takes a lot of hard work to learn a new language. When Eliza first begins her lessons she is in tears trying to understand the proper way that Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison), wants her to say her vowels. To her there is no difference between what she says and what he says. I saw the grueling pain she went through in this film far more than I did in Pygmalion. In addition to vowel sounds, she also has to learn which words are stressed in certain phrases. This is something that many of us take for granted because we do it as second nature, but to her it is confusing. It is as if she does not truly understand the meaning of the words she is speaking. When she finally does begin to understand and hear the difference between what she is being taught and the Cockney she has spoken all of her life, Higgins Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White), and she literally dance with joy. This transformation is not a complete metamorphosis of who Eliza really is; this is seen towards the end of the movie when she gets angry and reverts to speaking Cockney.

     The difference between her pronouncation of words is clearly seen in her singing. In the beginning when she sings "Wouldn't It be Loverly?" she is very careful to stay in character. Eliza still drops and adds "h's" throughout the song. This gives her character credibility later on when she does learn how to speak like the upper class.

     Another reason is the way Eliza talked to Higgins when he did not commend her on how will she had fooled everyone at the Embassy Ball. Though she has been taught all the social graces needed to be a "lady," Higgins could not have prepared her for the new problems that would arise in her life due to her change in status. She is still the same person inside. Due to this, she sees herself, to some extent, as a "common, ignorant girl." This reminds the audience that she has a lot of adjustments to make to her new life; she is emotional confused about her place in society and how she will survive. Her understanding in these areas has grown by the end of the movie, but we can see that she still has a lot to discover and learn. This is symbolized by Eliza returning to Higgins at the end of the film. He has been her teacher, and she still has so much to learn. She believes he can help her through these changes and "lessons" about which she must continue to learn.

     I believe Audrey Hepburn did a wonderful job of portraying the determined and strong-willed Eliza Doolittle that is seen in this film. Her acting made the character more believable and helped the audience empathize with her plight of going from a lower social class to a higher social class in a short amount of time

Lisa Manners

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