(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Roman Holiday

Where You Can Stream It: Crackle, Tubi

The Pitch: The 1953 romantic-comedy, directed by William Wyler, stars Audrey Hepburn in her Oscar-winning role as a princess touring Europe, who finally has had enough of her suffocating lifestyle and runs away in the middle of the night while in Rome. She’s discovered, passed out in the streets, by a frustrated American journalist (Gregory Peck) who sees the opportunity for the biggest scoop of his career when he realizes who she is. But after they spend the day roaming around the Italian city, the blossoming romance between them throws a wrench in his scheme.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: It’s Audrey Hepburn, in her star-making role, frolicking around Rome with Gregory Peck, AKA Atticus Finch! What more could you ask for? And with all of us stuck inside and unlikely to take that trip to Italy that we’ve all been longing to make, this Roman Holiday is the next best option. But my favorite part of Roman Holiday is that though it’s billed as a frothy romantic comedy set to the sunny backdrop of a gorgeous European city, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy that cuts right through it.

You know those movies that are like a warm blanket for you, that you can pop in on a rainy day and fall asleep to while under the covers? That’s what Roman Holiday is for me. This is a very personal choice that I always fall back on when I’m sick or feeling under the weather, because of how transporting it is and how delightful Hepburn is to watch in this movie. This is going to sound very basic, but as a teen, I had a boxed set of Audrey Hepburn movies that I dearly treasured, containing Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which I gave the cursory watch to appreciate the iconography before deciding it was not for me), Sabrina (which always surprises me with how likable it is, despite the icky age gap between Humprey Bogart and Hepburn), and Roman Holiday, which quickly became one of my favorite films.

While I’m not sick now, I found myself returning to Roman Holiday to temporarily ease the pit in my stomach that seems to have become permanently lodged there for the past three weeks. Now Roman Holiday isn’t just a warm blanket for me, it’s an escape.

Now more than ever, Roman Holiday feels like wish fulfillment for all of us under quarantine. After her initial shock of being alone with a strange man, Hepburn’s Princess Ann — going by the alias “Anya” — becomes emboldened to make the most of her temporary freedom and seize the day. She gets her hair cut. She buys a trendy outfit. She drives a motorcycle. She dances with the local Italian boys, and smashes a guitar on a policeman’s head. All with an infectious bubbly laugh that Hepburn delivers with beaming sincerity. Gregory Peck’s cynical reporter Joe Bradley, who yearns to return to America and write about the “real news,” is taken aback by how much joy Anya takes in such mundane things, and slowly softens to the image of the regal princess that he had until now. But watching Roman Holiday while stuck inside and hundreds of miles away from Italy, Anya’s joie-de-vivre hits even harder — oh how I long to go outside and do simple things like get a haircut and eat ice cream dripping out of a cone.

The film is rather low-key for all the acclaim it’s earned and the status as a cinematic class that it’s gained. For the most part, there isn’t really a plot, just a few shenanigans that Joe Bradley and his photographer friend Irving (Eddie Albert) have to overcome in order to keep up their scheme that they’re just a bunch of friendly expats who want to give Anya a tour of the city. Seeing how Wyler effortlessly balances comedy with little slices of life feels incredibly modern — almost more like an Italian neorealist film than a ’50s romantic-comedy. And while the film has romance in spades, its bittersweet ending is what elevates Roman Holiday above all the frothy masses. It’s light-hearted and beautiful, until it isn’t.

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