I can't think of another word to describe Roman Holiday besides "charming". Everything from the Roman backgrounds to the melodramatic fight scene is shot in lush black and white, not only with great technical precision by William Wyler, but with elegance and even innocence. It's a film that can transmit pure joy and take you on an escapist ride with no guilt whatsoever, given the excellence throughout -from the art direction to the performances-. Most importantly, its story is told in such a cute and inventive way that you don't feel you've seen it before (as it often happens nowadays with romantic comedies). The highlight are the brilliant characterizations of Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) and Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), the "undercover" reporter set to write a pricey exclusive interview with the Princess, without her knowing.
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn absorb every scene. Their screen presence is something to behold, and also a source of nostalgia... I don't think it's easy to find performers with their level of distinction and their sort of transparent delivery. In their hands, the dialogue gains a great deal of fluidity and depth. They effortlessly and believably carry the film in all of its delicate mood changes, with its veiled irreverence, its wit, its drama, and its slapstick. However, this isn't just a performance-showcase film, everything about it is outstanding, and I could personally watch it a third time only for the wonderful exteriors, or for the intelligent screenplay.
William Wyler is more than happy to show the beautiful faces of the city and take his characters on wild, illegal drives across its streets. Italians are shown as friendly and warm people that the Princess and the journalist are more than happy to meet.
A sharp sense of humor, panoramic views of the buildings of Rome, music, and romance abound, but don't overshadow the fundamental sadness of the story: two people very keen on lying to each other fall in love, and then, because of their backgrounds, cannot remain together. All ends well but not too well, and such an unlikely episode ends in a rather realistic way. The film is ultimately satisfying and neither self-indulgent nor a crowd-pleaser, and that's one of the things that really sets it apart.
From Princess Ann's yearning for freedom to Joe's final sacrifice, Roman Holiday takes on some dense themes without it ever feeling heavy, and it's a film to be charmed by and enjoy. A classic, one of the films you simply have to watch at some point in your life.