There are some heartfelt moments in this documentary portrait of Audrey Hepburn, with touching contributions from her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer, and granddaughter Emma Ferrer – as well as spirited comments from critic Molly Haskell as well as Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Hepburn in his ill-fated 1981 movie They All Laughed. But by and large, it’s an exasperating, simpering, Hello-magazine-interview of a film, blandly celebrating her “iconic” presence in the horribly overrated Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in which she was absurdly unrelaxed and self-conscious.
The film gives due weight to the unaffected loveliness and charm of her first leading role, in Roman Holiday. But amid the waffle, her very good performances in Stanley Donen’s Two For the Road and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian are just ignored. The film also avoids mentioning Alfred Hitchcock’s grudge against Hepburn for using her pregnancy (with Sean) for getting out of her contract to star in his planned but then abandoned movie No Bail for the Judge: Hepburn was aghast to realise her character would be attacked by a rapist.
Audrey is candid enough about Hepburn’s parents, and their ugly pre-war political infatuations with Nazism, and it lays out Hepburn’s great pain and loneliness when she finally came from the Netherlands to London after the war to be a dancer, and then – when that wasn’t working out – to act on stage and in the movies. It is also clear about the unhappiness of her own marriages. In the final portion of her life, Hepburn threw herself into her work for Unicef and became a very class act, speaking passionately in English, French and Dutch about the need to help disadvantaged children – although I was sorry that the film spent quite so much time on this worthy but sometimes not very interesting period, when there was more to say about her work on screen.
In the end, Hepburn withdrew behind the mask of quasi-royal elevation: you can see visual echoes of Jackie Onassis, Grace Kelly and Diana Spencer in her. My own theory is that her public image and sense of herself was irreversibly shaped by Roman Holiday, and that her Unicef work was shaped by her appearance in The Nun’s Story. But the film has some nice images of Hepburn, at all events.
• Audrey is on digital formats from 30 November.