Like most girls, I was born wanting to be a princess, though I preferred Belinda from The Practical Princess to helpless Cinderella. Unlike for many of my peers, this desire ended quite early for me. The wedding of Princess Di lasted far too long for my attention span, and what was up with that poofy dress and that decidedly not Barbie-like haircut?
Even had Diana worn the kind of clothes I preferred at six, I knew her kind of life wasn’t for me. For a shy kid who dodged from view, that much limelight looked terrifying and—even worse—dull.
It’s hard to ignore the tedium of official duties when you’re the daughter of a principal. “Are we going to be last AGAIN?” I used to whisper to my sisters at the high school concert’s or play’s conclusion as I shuttled between the mothers talking kids and fathers spinning funny stories and finally glared at that last soul who hadn’t noticed that my family and he had been the only ones there for the past hour.
Perhaps that’s why whenever Kate Middleton is shot in another gorgeous dress or chic hat, I always look past it to the caption, to see what tiresome event she wore it for. I like viewing the pretty dresses in princess films still today, but I’m far more interested in the conflicts the heroine has to endure.
In The Prince and Me, when Paige, Julia Stiles’s character, balks at the many rules of royalty, the queen claims jewels are compensations, and the camera rests on a feast of diamond and emerald. “Yeah,” I remember thinking when I saw it, “maybe for the first twenty minutes.” Because after enduring the 200th ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of something I’d never heard of; choking through fussy, elaborate dinners while wearing Spanx; watching yet another stream of dull important people approaching me I’d have to pretend were interesting, like some sick replay of my worst date; I’d be handing that tiara to the gal next to me and high-tailing it to Vegas.
Perhaps that’s why Roman Holiday is my favorite of all princess films, a story about the glamour of everyday joys rather than balls, the excitement of the release from royalty. The film begins with Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) trying not to yawn through yet another official ceremony on her goodwill tour, and scandalously kicking off her tight heel, which her retinue quickly finds a way to conceal.
In response to her schedule for the next day, Ann rehearses her answers, her boredom coming through in every line: “Thank you, no thank you.” And which speech she’ll have to give, such as one of her regulars, “Youth and Progress.” Her frustration with all the routine soon leads to a nervous attack, a sedative, and her escape to play hooky in Rome, sans her identity or attendants. She meets handsome reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) as she wanders. He soon discovers her identity and plans for a scoop on the princess’s “holiday.” Oblivious to his discovery, she simply enjoys herself, and he, of course (this is Audrey Hepburn, after all) does too.
Everyday joys soon elevate the princess’s spirits from frustration to exuberance. Just look at that smile as she goes about the city…
Compared to such pleasures, what are designer gowns and crown jewels?