Somebody once said of iconic actress Audrey Hepburn that she was not a great actress in the “traditional sense”. Whether true or not, this did not prevent her star from shining: her style, charisma and screen presence are still renowned to this very day. The fashion world copies her look (the little black dress she wore in Blake Edwards’ 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s is regarded as the “Audrey dress” – she used it quite a few times throughout the film, only changing the accessories to achieve different looks) and she is remembered as an example of elegance, grace, and beauty who never took herself too seriously.
Hepburn plays Holly Golightly, a young woman who has just moved to New York and makes the most of its parties, glamorous events and shining, expensive shops, namely the titular, world famous, diamond encrusted jewellery shop, Tiffany’s. Holly finds herself enamoured with Tiffany’s, and it quickly becomes the place where she feels happiest and most contented. When in a bad mood, she recounts, “The only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there”. While she’s busy enjoying her life as a socialite, writer Paul ‘Fred’ Varjak (George Peppard) moves into her building. After a fortuitous encounter with Holly, Paul quickly becomes besotted with her.
Paul is curious to find out what’s behind Holly’s apparent light heartedness and refusal to deal with the problems of life. She is very much like her own cat: she doesn’t have a name and can come and go as she pleases – or so she likes to think. Hepburn’s Holly is young and breezy, innocent yet with a dark, rebellious side. She is the focus of the film, the woman all the characters revolve around, and she keeps the audience’s eyes glued to the screen as she graciously stumbles out of bed hungover after a night of partying, as she nearly sets a guest’s hair on fire with her light hearted, lovable carelessness and as she makes Paul fall in love with her, just to reject that love for fear of having to deal with reality.
Hepburn’s Holly can be seen as a prototype for Julia Roberts’ Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman (1990), another version of the happy hooker who sells her body and her affections in exchange for money and the chance to dream. Ultimately, however, Holly hides away a dark side of herself which is uncovered – and conquered – through Paul and the love that they share for each other. In the end, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a tale about escapism, about realising that life’s events become different if we change the way we see them, and about finding a place where we can feel good about ourselves, just like Holly does within the beauty and glamour of Tiffany’s.