FT Top 100 Films

Mo’ puns. Very few people get the “My Fair Lady” / “Mayfair Lady” joke implied by the title as Eliza Doolittle would pronounce it. Perhaps they shouldn’t, since the adaptation from Pygmalion reduces much of the class complexities of Shaw’s original to a binary of working/upper middle class. Certainly not the first play you would think of to adapt, with its uncomfortable teacher/student, old man/young woman platonic romance. In turns patronising, creepy and condescending, My Fair Lady has all of Pygmalion’s fault, and staples some of the best show tunes ever written to its carcass.

“I have often walked, down these streets before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before”

As songs about falling arse over tit go, this cannot be bettered. The films songs do pick up some of the rarest feelings of being in love. I Could Have Danced All Night, is all delicacy, frippery, fancy. But then place this next to a song spiteful as Just You Wait, or as high concept as The Rain In Spain. Love, spite and hate all in one package.

Perhaps Audrey Hepburn was too posh an Eliza Doolittle. Amazing that actresses never seem to be able to pull off both eras of Eliza, when the only transformation is in the voice. But in a musical like this her delicacy works well, especially in the Ascot scene where her blood-curdling cry for the horse plays tremendously against type. Rex Harrison on the other hand fits the role of pompous ass so well one would think he was one in real life (and one would be right). But if it is entertainment you are after, real, high class song and dance numbers go straight for the Mayfair Lady.

She invented a whole class of her own you know.