Is there any female character in modern film as immediately identifiable as Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”
A half-century on from its original release, director Blake Edwards’ adaptation of the Truman Capote novella continues to captivate new generations of fans. And Hepburn’s classic look in the film — the iconic little black dress, the tiara and cats’ eye sunglasses — has been taken up by such young actresses as Jennifer Love Hewitt to even former Page 3 Girl Keely Hazell.
In another installment of The Guardian’s long-running My Favourite Film series, writer Lisa Allardice takes a clear-eyed look at this now-classic, reminding us, once again, that Hepburn’s Holly was a long way from the character that Capote originally envisioned:
“To admit that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of your favourite films, these days, is to out yourself as the emotional and intellectual equivalent of a cupcake. The iconography of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly has become as neatly packaged and commodified as a duck-egg blue Tiffany’s box – a world away from Capote’s booze-and-nicotine-fuelled 1958 original. A revisionist feminist take on Breakfast at Tiffany’s would be as unconvincing and ill-advised as Mickey Rooney playing the Japanese Mr Yunioshi – there’s no getting away from the fact (although Hollywood tried) that Holly takes money “for the powder room”, and that she is in many ways the creation of a series of Svengali-like men.”
But for all that, Allardice argues that it’s George Peppard’s Paul who’s just the window dressing here. The movie is Hepburn’s from beginning to end.
“For once the love interest is a man, and he isn’t even that interesting. Despite this being his only memorable role (the, ahem, A-Team notwithstanding), George Peppard is as smooth and bland as a bar of soap: the cat has more personality,” she writes.
Allardice expertly sums up the difference between Capote’s Holly and Hepburn’s:
“The film is the sparkling champagne to the novella’s dirty martini (which led Mailer to crown Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation”), and each have their distinct pleasures. Where the mean reds smoulder dangerously at the edges of the pages, like Capote’s endless cigarettes, the film is drenched in sunshine (we know it’s not far away even in the final downpour).”
And as to her look — often imitated, sometimes to the point of parody, the fashion of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” had an indelible effect on filmdom.
“Capote was very specific as to Holly’s sartorial tastes. “She was never without dark glasses, she was always well groomed, there was a consequential good taste in the plainness of her clothes, the blues and greys and lack of lustre that made her, herself, shine so.” Hepburn, in other words, who shines as if lit from within: the only thing on which director Blake Edwards strayed was the leading lady’s hair colour.”
Yet for its flaws, both Capote’s novella and Edwards’ film share one thing in common: escapism. And “when my own world starts taking on an a mean tint, playing it can be as reassuring as a trip to Tiffany’s,” Allardice concludes. “And no – I don’t watch it eating a box of chocolates and painting my nails. But I might cry – a little.”
And there are far, far worse ways to spend a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, which is always when I seem to catch the movie. And for a few minutes, I can imagine seeing a woman like Hepburn peering into the iconic shop window and imagine, myself, that I’m a part of that bygone age as well.