During my socially isolated summer spent binge watching shows and movies, I found myself on an Audrey Hepburn kick. Amazon Prime fed this new obsession by streaming movies like “Roman Holiday,” “Funny Face” and “Sabrina” (all must sees for the movie enthusiast). However, when I went to find my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie of all time, “My Fair Lady,” it was nowhere to be found within the world of streamable cinema. So, on April 1 when my mom texted that the film was finally on Netflix, you can probably imagine my excitement! Whether you are an Audrey Hepburn fan like me or have never heard of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” this film is a timelessly splendid classic that you really MUST watch.
For anyone unfamiliar with the movie, “My Fair Lady” is a high spirited musical with the perfect combination of wit and humor as it follows protagonist Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) in her transition from a poor flower seller with a strong Cockney accent to a refined English lady. Phonetics professor Henry Higgens (Rex Harrison) makes a bet that he can teach Eliza to speak as well as a duchess, and the two develop a charismatic and chaotic relationship while working together to “fix” Eliza’s speech. Songs like “Wouldn’t it be Loverly,” “Just You Wait” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” make this story a hilarious and unforgettable classic.
What makes this musical so timeless is its progressive feminist messeges. From the beginning of the film when Henry Higgens bets that he can turn Eliza into an aristocratic lady, she is nothing more to him than a pawn in his little game. Henry Higgen’s misogynistic character is seen in songs like “An Ordinary Man” and “A Hymn to Him (Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like a Man?)” where he complains about women being annoying, irrational and silly. For the entirety of the movie, Eliza is a pet to Higgens as he teaches her new “tricks” with her speech and demands that she “fetch” his slippers. Rather than submit to Higgen’s abuse, however, Eliza retains her strong-willed character and fights back with songs like “Just You Wait,” where she dreams about Henry Higgens’ death, and “Without You,” where she lets Henry Higgens know just how insignificant he really is. Unlike most musicals of the Golden Age where a dainty girl falls in love with a strong man, “My Fair Lady” is about a woman who takes advantage of an opportunity to better her social standing by accepting Henry Higgen’s offer of speech lessons and manages to retain her spunk and independence while doing so. Despite Higgen’s efforts to make her tame and submissive to his will, Eliza Doolittle’s wit, spirit and charisma are never compromised.
Unfortunately, despite Eliza’s clear assertion of self-worth and strength of character, the film ends with her returning to Henry Higgens in a somewhat submissive fashion. For all the resilience that Eliza displays throughout the film, she remains a victim of the early 20th century’s restraints regarding women’s ability to live independently. She has little choice other than to return to the sexist and egotistical Henry Higgens. Thankfully, Broadway’s 2018 revival of “My Fair Lady” provides an alternative ending where Eliza leaves Henry Higgens as an independent woman. This slight change provides the perfect, pro-women ending to an otherwise progressively feminist show.
“My Fair Lady” is an incredible film. It is not only classic but timeless with it’s enchanting yet comical musical score, hilarious scenes and feminist messages. Despite being released in 1964, “My Fair Lady” still remains a relevant and enchanting cinematic masterpiece in 2021.