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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

what he said: Peter Bradshaw at the ‘Guardian’ Film blog …

…about what Emma Thompson said about Audrey Hepburn.

Oh, wait: you haven’t heard what Emma Thompson said about Audrey Hepburn? She said this (via Bradshaw):

I find Audrey Hepburn fantastically twee. Twee is whimsy without wit. It’s mimsy-mumsy sweetness without any kind of bite. And that’s not for me. She can’t sing and she can’t really act, I’m afraid. I’m sure she was a delightful woman – and perhaps if I had known her I would have enjoyed her acting more, but I don’t and I didn’t, so that’s all there is to it, really.

Thompson has been doing press lately regarding a proposed remake of My Fair Lady that she has written a script for. (I hope to god Thompson’s screenplay turns that story on its end, and has a sweet young man getting tutored by an agressive older woman who knows what’s best for him. I see Angelina Jolie and Zac Efron in the leads…)
You can imagine the uproar among Hepburn accolytes. Harry Mount in the Telegraph figures Thompson must be “jealous” — because that’s always the way of it when a woman says something less than pleasant and charming and nice about another woman. And this:

Thompson says appreciating Audrey Hepburn may be “a guy thing”, as if her attraction is purely sexual. Actually – although she’s obviously attractive – she has very little raunch to her (a fact not lost on her legions of gay fans). Her charm is almost asexual – more a gamine, little girl lost thing…

Hey, maybe Thompson is jealous after all! Because she’s an adult woman living in a world where little-girlness is considered an appealing thing for an adult female, and where “raunch” is the extent of female sexuality.

Anyway, what Bradshaw said in Thompson’s defense — not that Thomson needs defending — is this:

Hepburn is an intriguing figure, but I think Emma Thompson is entitled, more than entitled, to poke this sacred cow.

As I’m sure Thompson knows, sacred cows make for the juiciest steak.



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  • Daniel

    The discussion about Audrey Hepburn is like the old argument about whether Marilyn Monroe could act. It’s interesting, but entirely beside the point. The charm is that she’s Audrey Hepburn, and everyone else is not. It’s easy enough to criticize her technical skills–I’ve done it plenty of times–but it won’t make people love her any less. And she was pretty brilliant in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think Thompson was trying to convince anyone to love Hepburn less — she was just explaining why she doesn’t love Hepburn. If it’s all about the charm, then isn’t it reasonable that not everyone will feel that charm? And if it’s not about Hepburn’s talent, then why all the uproar when someone states what, you seem to imply, everyone already agrees upon?

  • Kat

    But Thomposn goes beyond talking about Hepburn’s charm by making statements about her acting skills. I’d like to hear why she thinks Hepburn can’t act. I’m also not sure what the whole ‘guy thing’ is supposed to mean. I am a heterosexual woman and I find Hepburn attractive – so what is, in Thompson’s view, wrong with my womanhood? I love Thompson (just re-reading her diary on the production of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ both hilarious and insightful. Best part: Ang Lee making a solemn vow to never ever work with sheep again, he!)and of course she’s entitled to poke a holy cow. But I don’t feel much outrage for the flak she’s getting here, especially not as I think she’s trying to get some attention for her script by doing so. It’s working – so all is well.

  • MaryAnn

    Thomposn goes beyond talking about Hepburn’s charm by making statements about her acting skills.

    I was responding to Daniel, who said that acting skills were beside the point. Meaning that everyone knows that Hepburn couldn’t act — they liked her for other reasons in spite of that.

  • Kat

    Meaning that everyone knows that Hepburn couldn’t act

    Everyone except me in that case. My first memory of a Hepburn movie is ‘Wait until Dark’ – certainly not a moive where she could rely much on her charm. I knew that Hepurns singing skills were open to debate (to put it politely) but it’s new to me that she can’t act and that this is an undisputed fact.

  • bronxbee

    audrey hepburn pretty much plays … audrey hepburn. i liked her in what she was in, for what she was… but she does play a particular type of woman — charming, gamine, attractive without any real sexual punch… light and frothy most of the time. there is no underlying “darkness” to her, nor does she project any sort of complexity because most of her roles don’t call for it. i think emma thompson is not objecting to audrey hepburn per se, as a woman, or an actress, but to the type of roles she was cast in, which do not entice or impress a full-bodied actor like ET. and she’s entitled to say — those roles were for a lightweight actress, not for her.

  • Rose

    I like what Emma Thompson said, I have always found Audrey Hepburn a bit bland, now Marilyn – she’s got interest and bite. I think the question of Marilyn is not ‘could she act?’ but ‘could she stop herself acting?’ Here we have an intelligent and beautiful woman who has somehow bought into the idea that beautiful women can’t be clever and is fighting a war out between the two since. Hepburn doesn’t seem to have much else going on.

  • Susan

    I think “twee” is a perfect description of Hepburn. I never understood her appeal at all. Also, a reworking of “My Fair Lady” by Thompson. Can’t wait!

  • I like Audrey Hepburn. I adore Emma Thompson. The fact that the latter doesn’t really care for the work of the former doesn’t rob either of their appeal for me.

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