My decision to watch My Fair Lady is partly owing to Audrey Hepburn. While I knew she was an iconic British actress, I had yet to watch any of her movies. After My Fair Lady, I discovered the reason why audiences love her so much.
George Cukor directs this 1964 musical. The film depicts the witty and somber story of Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), a poor Cockney flower girl in England. She enters a wager with the arrogant and misogynistic Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), a professor of phonetics, who believes he can teach Eliza to be a lady. My Fair Lady presents a critical view of the class system of Edwardian England.
Throughout the musical, Hepburn was uproariously funny as Eliza. Hepburn’s character is a strong-willed, foul-mouthed young woman. She wants to work at a flower shop and have a nice life, but her Cockney accent imprisons her in poverty. Her famous catchphrase is “Ayyyyy”, and she never fails to make the audience laugh with her animated facial expressions and exaggerated accent.
However, underneath Eliza’s seemingly vulgar exterior is an intelligent woman who wishes to be treated with respect more than anything else.
Higgins, on the other hand, is considered the stereotypical “perfect gentleman.” Yet, his actions contrast this flawless image. He degrades Eliza in many ways; he calls her names and treats her like “the dirt under his shoe.” He also treats Eliza as a toy, rather than a person. He stuffs marbles in her mouth to teach her how to speak and taunts her with chocolate. He never once takes her feelings into account.
Eliza is an example of the way society pressures women to change their standards based on idealized images of femininity. Eliza tries to fit the standards of the society that shuns her, but her character does not change. She says to Higgins, “The only difference between a lady and a flower girl is not her behaviour, but how she is treated.” If we listen to the media’s presentation of biased and untrue stereotypes, we marginalize people without realizing it. Why should Eliza’s accent prevent her from achieving her goals?
My Fair Lady is a comical and thought-provoking musical that looks at relationships and appearances with a critical eye. This film teaches us that there is much more to a person beyond their exterior. The question is whether we choose to look closer before speaking our minds.