Pygmalion–Higgins or Freddy? That Is the Question

         The 1938 movie adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion is different from the play in many ways. In the 1938 film, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard have changed a lot. The most obvious difference is the ending and Eliza’s choice of the man to be with.

         In Shaw’s play, Eliza chose to live with Freddy, the man who has always adored her and who was sincerely in love with her. In the film, Eliza (Wendy Hiller) ends up going back to Higgins’ house and the audience can assume that they stay together then. There are some reasons suggesting that this was the right choice for her: First of all, Higgins (Leslie Howard) has helped her by taking her into his house, teaching her manners and making it possible for her to improve her social class. Moreover, I can feel the tension and affection between Higgins and Eliza during the movie, and I assumed that they might end up falling in love with each other in the end.

         However, Higgins has treated Eliza pretty badly throughout the movie. He forced her to practice her pronunciation late at night and always treated her like a dumb child. Maybe deep down in his heart, he is in love with her, but he is not capable to show that and treat her like an adult. He just realizes how much he actually needs her when she leaves.

         These aspects justify Eliza’s decision to go with Freddy (David Tree). He truly loves her and treats her how a woman wants to be treated. This decision indicates that Eliza is an independent woman and does no longer have to rely on Higgins’ support. The 1938 film does not show her as an independent woman, though. She fulfills the stereotype of the women in that time: Dumb, dependent and inferior to men.

         In my opinion, the better choice for Eliza would be Freddy: True, sincere love is better than pressure and dependence.

Bernhard Holzfurtner