Eliza Doolittle: Hepburn versus Hiller

         I have grown up singing all of the songs from My Fair Lady, emulating the dance sequences, and reenacting my favorite scenes. Due to the exposure of this film from childhood, I have long idolized the enchanting and enormously talented Audrey Hepburn. When preparing to view the 1938 version entitled Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, I was certain that there was no actress who could ever compare with Hepburn's flawless performance in the 1964 musical adaptation. But, my reaction to Wendy Hiller's interpretation of Eliza Doolittle was one that I was not expecting. Both Audrey Hepburn and Wendy Hiller gave successful, captivating performances, but each had a different approach in capturing the essence of all that rings to be Eliza Doolittle, as originally created by George Bernard Shaw in 1913.

         When we are first introduced to Eliza Doolittle, she is very ill-mannered, her dirty appearance is ghastly, and she does not know how to behave like a lady. Even though Audrey Hepburn does a sufficient job of portraying this type of un-polished character, her elegance cannot help but shine through. This makes it much easier to watch her develop into the magnificently refined lady she becomes in the end.

         Wendy Hiller gave a very winning performance as the former Eliza Doolittle. Her emotion was raw, and I believed that she was a poor common flower girl from the start. Her performance as the lady-like Ms. Doolittle was somewhat weaker than Hepburn's portrayal but was still entertaining.

         In conclusion, though I had the prior opinion that Wendy Hiller's performance would pale in comparison to Audrey Hepburn's, I was sorely mistaken. Hiller brought a new dimension to the role of Eliza Doolittle. which worked very well in the film.

Lydia Davis

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