The film musical of Lerner & Lowe’s ‘My Fair Lady’, adapted from the play ‘Pygmalion’, is a story of a flower seller in Edwardian Britain, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) who is tutored by the arrogant and misogynistic professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison).
When stage musicals are put onto the big screen many details are often changed, but ‘My Fair Lady’ is a largely faithful adaptation of the stage production, which results in a very stylised and handsome production, and this is one of the reasons why this film is such a success. It is beautiful to watch. I can think of only a handful of films which have more iconic stills than this: Eliza arriving at the ball, the flower sellers at Covent Garden, and of course, the wonderful Ascot Scene.
The scene at the Ascot is one of my favourite scenes from any musical. For a start, there is the wonderful song, coupled with the most gorgeous costumes, and the most delightfully witty dialogue during which Eliza sticks to her two allocated topics of conversation: the weather and everyone’s health.
Musicals can suffer at times from poor scripting, relying on sparkly musical numbers to pull the film through, but ‘My Fair Lady’ does not falter here: the script is wonderful. The musical numbers performed by the professor are speak-sung, and are delightfully clever and performed to perfection by Harrison, who deservedly won the Best Actor award for his performance.
Hepburn is often criticised for her performance in this film, largely because her voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon and because the role was not performed by Julie Andrews, who played the role on the stage. The Academy snubbed Hepburn unfairly, because it is a great performance. She is perfect as Eliza, both as the common flower seller and as transformed lady. Audrey Hepburn has become one of the most iconic actresses ever, and that can result in her being overlooked as an actress. There are few actresses who can light up the screen in the way that Hepburn can and this is, along with ‘Roman Holiday’ her most enchanting performance.
The best thing about ‘My Fair Lady’ is, however, the music. Every song is brilliant: from Harrison’s numbers, to the classic ‘I Could’ve Danced All Night’ and from ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’ which introduces us to Eliza, to the film’s best number ‘On the Street Where You Live’, they are all exceptional.
‘My Fair Lady’ is truly on of the greatest musicals of all time and thoroughly deserves its place high up on the list of the greatest Best Picture winners of all time.