Charming holiday at the Ashmolean
An annual tradition has emerged where, over the course of the 'summer' months, an audience will risk the uncertainty of England's weather and decamp to an outside space to watch a classic film. This year the Picturehouse (in partnership with San Miguel) took up residence in the Ashmolean courtyard, bringing with them three films about relationships, either romantic or platonic, and I had the pleasure of going along to see Roman Holiday. It proved to be a perfect evening for all fans of sweetly romantic, 50s-era Hollywood cinema.
Amongst the many fabulous buildings of Oxford, the Ashmolean is one of my favourites and it makes a suitably charming, resplendent locale for the film. We arrived early enough to bag one of the deckchairs and so I was able to sit back, San Miguel in hand, and watch the sunset on this beautiful building. The location added another level of enjoyment to the experience, even if the museum is a smidge too close to one of the busier roads of the city - a loud 'arrgh' being heard during the film bought the threat of a cameoing pirate which briefly threw the film off-kilter.
The film itself tells the story of a young European princess (Audrey Hepburn) in the midst of a whirlwind PR tour of Europe who sneaks out one night and spends a day in the company of an American (Gregory Peck). It is for the most part pure Hollywood popcorn, bounding from a resplendent state dinner through to a swinging boat party, taking in many a tourist destination across the city. Never has Rome looked so welcoming! The film goes a long way on the charms of Hepburn, early in her career and before she had reached the heights of Breakfast at Tiffany's and My Fair Lady, and Peck, a welcome break from the westerns and war movies he was starring in at the time. Hepburn makes a sweet, endearing presence, an early indicator of the star quality she would bring to other films, while Peck was the ideal American gent, equipped with a laconic wit and an understated charm that helps power the chemistry between the two.
Roman Holiday is more notable now for its placements within the history of McCarthyism in Hollywood. Written by one of the more famous blacklisted writers, Dalton Trumbo, the film acted as a secret moment of rebellion, proceeding the far more public one of Ben Hur (which also shared a director, William Wyler, a skillful studio director for the era). This information clouded my opinion of the film going into it and so the surprisingly emotive ending blindsided me somewhat, elevating Roman Holiday beyond the fairytale quality that the film comfortably inhabits.
The film was just the right one to watch at the Ashmolean. Antiquated enough to fit in with the other relics of the museum, charming enough to entertain throughout (even when combating the louder noises of Oxford), and interesting enough to linger in the memory afterwards. The setup was spot on, aided by polite and incredibly helpful staff who were on hand to aid our viewing experience. I will certainly be attending the Picturehouse Pop-up when it returns next year.