Ann (Audrey Hepburn) is a royal princess of an unspecified country. She is on a widely publicized tour of several European capitals, including Rome. One night, she is overwhelmed by the strenuous demands of her official duties, where her day is tightly scheduled. Her doctor gives her a sedative to calm her down and help her sleep, but she secretly leaves her country's embassy to experience Rome by herself.

The injection eventually takes effect and she falls asleep on a bench, where Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an expatriate American reporter working for the Rome Daily American, finds her. Not recognizing her, he offers her money so that she can take a taxi home, but a very woozy "Anya Smith" (as she calls herself) refuses to cooperate. Joe finally decides, for safety's sake, to let her spend the night in his apartment. He is amused by her regal manner, but less so when she appropriates his bed. He transfers her to a couch without awakening her. The next morning, Joe hurries off to work, leaving the princess still asleep.

When his editor, Mr. Hennessy (Hartley Power), asks why he is late, Joe lies to him; he claims to have attended a press conference for the princess. Joe makes up details of the alleged interview until Hennessy informs him that the princess had suddenly "fallen ill" and the conference had been canceled. Joe sees a picture of her and recognizes the young woman. Joe and Hennessy end up making a bet on whether Joe can get an exclusive on the princess.

Joe realizes he is sitting on a windfall. Hiding the fact that he is a reporter, he offers to show Rome to Anya, but not before getting his photographer friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) to tag along to secretly take pictures. However, Anya declines Joe's offer and leaves.

Enjoying her freedom, on a whim, Anya gets her hair cut short in a barbershop. Joe follows and "accidentally" meets her again. They spend the day seeing the sights, including the Mouth of Truth, a face carved in marble that is said to bite off the hands of liars. When Joe pulls his hand out of the mouth, it appears to be missing, causing Anya to scream. He then pops his hand out of his sleeve and laughs. (Hepburn's shriek was not acting — Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell his co-star beforehand.)

Later, Anya shares with Joe her dream of living a normal life without her crushing responsibilities. That night, at a dance on a boat, government agents finally track her down and try to escort her away, but a wild melee breaks out and Joe and Anya escape. Through all this, they gradually fall in love, but Anya realizes that their relationship cannot continue. She finally bids farewell to Joe and returns to the embassy.

During the course of the day, Hennessy learns that the princess is missing, not ill as claimed. He suspects that Joe knows where she is, and tries to get him to admit it, but Joe claims to know nothing about it. Knowing Joe's feelings for Anya, Irving reluctantly decides not to sell his photos.

The next day, Princess Ann appears at the delayed news conference, and is surprised to find Joe and Irving among the members of the press. Irving takes her picture with the same miniature cigarette lighter/camera he had used the previous day. He then presents her with the photographs he had taken that day, discreetly tucked in an envelope, as a memento of her adventure. Joe lets her know, by allusion, that her secret is safe with them. She, in turn, works into her bland statements a coded message of love and gratitude to Joe. She then departs, leaving Joe to linger for a while, contemplating what might have been.

Oscar
10 Nominations
3 Awards
Best Actress
Best Writing
Best Costume

Golden Globes
1 Nomination
1 Award
Best Actress
This role was originally written for Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant. Grant turned it down, believing he was too old to play Hepburn's love interest. (The studio later persuaded Grant to play opposite her in “Charade”) Peck's contract gave him solo star billing, with the name of then-unknown Hepburn listed much less conspicuously in the credits. Halfway through the filming though, he requested that the producer give her equal billing — an almost unheard-of gesture in Hollywood. His agent protested saying that such a privilege was the result of many years of work. But Peck insisted, saying: “If I don’t, I’m going to make a fool of myself because that girl is going to win the Oscar in her very first performance.”

Hepburn was cast after a screen test. After she had performed a dignified, subdued scene from the film, the director called "cut", but the cameraman left the camera rolling, capturing the young actress suddenly become animated as she chatted with the director. The candid footage won her the role; some of it was later included in the original theatrical trailer for the film, along with additional screen test footage showing Hepburn trying on some of Anya's costumes and even cutting her own hair (referring to a scene in the film).

With Audrey Hepburn at her most appealing, Gregory Peck at his most charismatic, and Rome at its most photogenic, “Roman Holiday” remains one of the most popular romances that has ever skipped across the screen. Aside from being an enormously enjoyable romp, the film is most notable for two reasons.

The first is Hepburn, featured here in her first starring role in a Hollywood film. Her performance won her an Academy Award and established her as an actress whose waifish, delicate beauty presented a viable alternative to the amply proportioned bombshells of the day. With her wide-eyed but cultivated portrayal of Princess Anne, Hepburn kicked off a trend defined by the Audrey Hepburn "look"--simple, sophisticated, and streamlined.

The second reason for the film's importance is its location. Whereas modern-day filmmakers may think nothing of jetting off to remote and exotic locales, in 1953 the idea of traveling beyond a Hollywood soundstage was fairly novel. Director William Wyler's use of Rome is one of the best examples of how a location can become a leading character in a film: without the city's twisted alleyways, bustling crowds, and hulking ruins, “Roman Holiday” would have had the visual impact of a museum diorama. The effect of using the actual city in the film was eye-popping: audiences saw not just a romance between the two lead characters but a love affair between the camera and the city. In this respect, “Roman Holiday” goes beyond its status as one of the screen's most enduring romances to become one of histories most thumbed-through travel brochures.

Edith Head thought that her major job as costumer would be to disguise Hepburn’s so-called “figure flaws” her long neck, prominent collarbone, thin arms and strong dancer’s legs, not to mention her flat chest. Nobody at Paramount thought their new star would be setting standards for a new kind of beauty. The New York Times wrote recently, “Thanks to their first glimpse of Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday”, half a generation of young females stopped stuffing their bras and teetering on stiletto heels.” One of the three Oscars the film won was for Edith Head’s costumes; the others were for Hepburn and the screenplay.

“Roman Holiday” took a long time to get to the screen. Dalton Trumbo, one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, wrote the original story in 1948, and had writer Ian McLellan Hunter front it for a sale to Frank Capra’s Liberty Pictures. Capra’s independent producing era, in partnership with William Wyler and George Stevens, did not last long, and the assets of the company were sold to Paramount. The studio had some money that could only be used abroad, so filming using Italian lire had a financial incentive. This would be the first American film shot in its entirety in Europe since World War II. Hunter received screenplay credit, although both Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges may have worked as script doctors, it was Hunter who would receive an Oscar for his writing. However in 1993, the Academy acknowledged Trumbo’s contribution, and awarded his wife and children his posthumous Academy Award for “Roman Holiday”'s screenplay.

If you haven’t seen “Roman Holiday”, I would say get this as soon as possible. The Centennial Collection from Paramount is the best, with the most Extras a DVD has to offer. Once you’ve seen it, this movie will stay with you for a long time and make you think of all the possibilities of “What if?”