“Audrey: More Than An Icon” is a recently released documentary by a young director Helena Coan. Many years after her untimely death from cancer, Audrey Hepburn remains a formidable and unforgettable figure that continues to inspire different generations.
When Helena approached Audrey’s eldest son Sean with an idea of putting a spotlight not on a Hollywood icon, but a woman, mother, humanitarian and friend, Sean was moved and helped to facilitate the interviews with those who truly knew Audrey at different stages of her life. Not only that, viewers get to hear Audrey’s own voice and reflections on her life, desires, problems and dreams. With innate grace, you can’t help, but be moved not only by the serene beauty of Audrey Hepburn, but the person who she was. At times insecure, this petit woman possessed immense strength of character and determination to do good on her own terms.
Audrey longed to have a child and turned her back on Hollywood at the height of her career (unheard of at the time). Yet in her own words “it wasn’t a sacrifice. Feeling of family is essential.” Equally she wanted to prove to herself and the world that unconditional love not only existed, but thrived.
Her own childhood suffering and war poverty never left her: “In dire circumstance you need each other more.” People were curious about her, so while she was shy and private as a person, she wanted to do something for the children of the world. When UNICEF asked her to get involved, she did so with every sincere fibre of her being and used her UNICEF advocacy for good whenever she could, even using different languages and making TV show and press conference appearances when it was rare for ‘celebrities’ to do so when not promoting their own careers. Audrey Hepburn travelled extensively to places of desperation, where death ruled the ground, putting spotlight on the suffering and sorrow of those who desperately needed and deserved help – children in Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan. And once there, she was stoical and vocal with reporters on the topics of malnutrition and death of children, thinking both of them unacceptable in the modern world.
This exquisitely beautiful woman was enraged that the suffering, preventable death and inequality continued well after the end of the World War II, as she truly believed in collective responsibility of humanity. Audrey Hepburn was extraordinarily powerful, yet very selfless in her efforts to help UNICEF – that intense work is what made her truly happy in her later years.
She struggled to find lasting love with men, yet she truly loved humanity, insisting that politicians should respond to human suffering. As Sean Hepburn Ferrer put it in the documentary “she took trauma and transferred it into love.” She was grateful for her life and opportunities that came her way, so she found a way to give back and share her own success with others unconditionally and with the most beautiful smile that expanded the space around her. She hugged and cuddled babies, she helped feed them or administer medecine – in order for people around the world to see the problems and stand up for the injustice of such childhoods around the world.
Helena Coan, documentary’s director, also found the most wonderful way to incorporate Audrey’s love of ballet into the documentary, enlisting the artistic talents of Alessandra Ferri and Francesca Hayward, whose dances were choreographed by Wayne McGregor. When one door closed – malnourishment and lack of early training put an end to Audrey’s ambitions to be a professional ballerina – she used her knowledge and talents elsewhere, not looking back in regret on what could have been.
The documentary itself is poignant, memorable and tactful. There is serenity in her family – her son and her granddaughter, as well as her friends and colleagues, when they talk about their memories of Audrey and that alone is a special gift to the audience, lifting a veil on the life of a much loved, but in many ways, on a human level, an unknown and private woman.
I was also moved by Audrey’s granddaughter Emma talking about her grandmother, who she sadly never met in person, yet possesses an elegance of her grandmother’s features and natural movement. As well as designer Clare Waight Keller talking of Audrey’s professional relationship and later friendship with Hubert de Givenchy (who in the first instance thought it was Katherine Hepburn coming to see him in his atelier for a fitting, not Audrey). Their timeless collaboration came seamlessly together and only strengthened and deepened over the years. Hubert de Givenchy’s outfits – created especially for Audrey’s work and private engagements, continue to draw admiring and awe-inspiring glances to this day.
One petite woman who suffered internally a great deal after her father deserted her aged six and later had first hand experience of war, famine, suffering and the longing to simply be loved for who she was. A woman who worked tirelessly for the benefit of others, who simply didn’t have a voice. A woman whose grace, beauty, innate elegance, warmth, humility and inner strength still serve a very important and poignant lesson to modern generations of human beings – to use one’s talents and achievements selflessly and tirelessly, not to gain recognition and accolades for oneself, but to help those less fortunate and struggling with their life’s circumstances.
“Audrey: More Than An Icon” was released on November 30, 2020; 1hr 36min; Can be purchased on video £6.99 or downloaded