Audrey (PG, 96mins) Directed by Helena Coan ***
She was the actress who truly became a fashion icon.
The face of 1950s and ‘60s who stole audience’s hearts in a succession of movies from Roman Holiday to Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady. Someone who walked away from Hollywood at the height of her career to look after her family and then reinvented herself as a Unicef Ambassador.
Yes, Audrey Hepburn packed a lot into her 63 years on this planet, as Helena Coan’s fascinating, but flawed documentary demonstrates.
Aiming to reveal the real Audrey that fans don’t know, Coan (whose last doco Chasing Perfect focused on designer Frank Stephenson) has gathered together friends, family and biographers to offer up a soup-to- nuts trawl through her much-storied life.
Those hoping for a clip-heavy walk through her screen career will be sorely disappointed, scenes from her most famous performances are used sparingly, as Coan aims to hammer home the point of just how unhappy Audrey’s life was at times.
You’ll learn how the Belgian woman born Audrey Kathleen Ruston’s pro-Hitler father pretended to be an aristocrat and then abandoned his wife and daughter to go and live in the UK. That, as war broke out just after she arrived in Amsterdam in 1939, young Audrey was convinced it would only last a week, only to have to spend part of the next few years living in a cellar and slowly developing malnutrition. And, after entertaining the Dutch resistance (and smuggling hidden messages in her shoes), post-war she started out in UK musicals, subsequently appearing in a string of Ealing comedies, before landing her breakout role in a Broadway production of Gigi.
Using archival interviews and audio recordings, Coan initially starts out strong – we really hear Audrey’s voice, her hopes and fears. But things get a bit wobbly later – some awful dramatisations attempt to highlight her first love of dance and her frustrated career as a would-be ballerina.
Much better are the insights and titbits from her time in Tinseltown. How fashion designer Hubert Givenchy, who was designing the costumes for Sabrina, got her confused with Katherine Hepburn, that Truman Capote wasn’t convinced she was right to play Tiffany’s Holly Golightly, that she had to battle to keep Moon River in that movie and how disappointed she was to have her singing over-dubbed by Marni Nixon for My Fair Lady. All those incidents aren’t just gossip, they serve to highlight the fragility of her stardom.
Later, tales of the unrelenting attention of the paparazzi, especially during her second marriage to philandering Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti (they apparently photographed him with 200 different, other women). If you believed recent generations of the British royal family had a lock on unwanted attention, or media stalking was a recent phenomenon, this will make you think again.
It all adds up to a documentary that feels almost less a celebration of a charismatic, talented woman and more a study in how a troubled childhood shaped a life (as she says, “I was always told not to draw attention, or make a spectacle of yourself, but I made a rather nice career out of doing just that”) and how loneliness can affect us all.
Audrey is now available to stream on Neon, iTunes and GooglePlay.