Triangle of Characters

     Even though there are different adaptations of the 1913 play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, the triangle of characters of Eliza, Colonel Pickering, and Henry is the foundation of each. Without these characters, neither the play nor the films would have been a success. Each character brings his or her own personality and qualities to a film or play, but it is the combination of the three that makes all of the versions of Pygmalion work.

     Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 musical movie My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, did a convincing job with Eliza's accent and her personality. However in the beginning, it was hard to see how Hepburn was going to turn into the reformed Eliza. She was dirty, unkempt; and with that wretched accent, it began to seem impossible that Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) could change her. After her trip to Henry's home, Eliza was not really sure what she had gotten herself into. She had initially come to pay for a few lessons in phonetics and ended up in the middle of a bet.

     Once the bet was made, both characters are only concerned with changing Eliza. They never stopped to think that Eliza might only want her accent to change, not her entire life. Once Eliza is reformed, she could have done anything with this new outlook; however, in the musical she decided to stay with Colonel Pickering and Henry. The ending in Pygmalion was particularly better, because Eliza chose to go her own way.

     In the musical Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) was the one that refereed the bet. Pickering was a great contrast to that of Henry's character. He actually had manners and a pleasing behavior that Henry was not capable of. Colonel Pickering was a relief from the egotistical Henry and his mannerisms. His relationship with Eliza was a very important part of the play. If Colonel Pickering had not been so polite on that first meeting with Eliza, she probably would not have stayed. It was his guidance that influenced Eliza's behavior. He was the mediator and the father figure in the play and had to appear as such in the film. In My Fair Lady Wilfred Hyde-White did this successfully and also managed to maintain a friendship with Harrison's Henry.

     Henry's demeanor is the reason Eliza chose to leave in Pygmalion. Throughout each film, Henry concentrates on winning the bet and changing Eliza. He does not realize that she has feelings that even he cannot change. I hope for Henry's sake, Eliza has taught him that he cannot run over everyone. Henry's character in the versions is consistent; he has the same qualities and character that was based on his character in Pygmalion. In the movie musical, Rex Harrison does a good portrayal of Henry's character. Henry was odd in the play and in the musical Harrison fit the part for the professor. He managed to do a successful job with his behavior and Henry's quirks.

      This triangle of characters helps bring a range of qualities to the films and play. Each brings a variety of perspectives and still gives one the same three characters. The characters of Eliza, Henry and Pickering provide My Fair Lady with a successful plot and overall drama to the film.

Leah Sims

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