If you are of noble birth, how do you get a day off? After many tedious hours of handshaking, curtsying and how-do-you-do-ing, Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) in her toe-pinching shoes can literally no longer stand the royal obligations of her European tour. Although she maintains a dignified public face, the young heiress breaks into hysterics once in her private quarters. Alarmed at the outburst, and wanting to assure smooth compliance with tomorrow's schedule, her guardian Countess Vereberg (Margaret Rawlings) orders their personal physician to inject the girl with a sedative.
As soon as the entourage leaves, but before the medication takes effect, Ann dresses in her least princess-like clothes and escapes from the palace confines, determined to get away from it all. However, drowsiness soon overtakes her and it is in this drunken-like state that Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) finds her.
At first the down-on-his-luck foreign correspondent doesn't recognize who she is--he is merely too much of a gentleman to leave the helpless waif to pass-out on a street corner. It isn't until a meeting with his editor the next morning that he realizes who he reluctantly shared his apartment with overnight.
Knowing his houseguest hasn't checked out yet, Joe's journalistic instincts see a golden opportunity for an exclusive story. Recruiting the help of his photographer buddy Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), the two men feign ignorance of her identity and offer "sleeping beauty" a day tour of Rome. Ann in turn, pretends to be a school runaway and eagerly accepts.
Irving snaps pictures secretly as Joe charmingly introduces the naïve tourist to the ancient city's attractions, as well as cigarettes, a motorcycle chase with the police, and a brawl at a waterfront dancing club. While all these activities are calculated to make headlines, the newspaperman doesn't count on developing feelings for the pretty aristocrat. And considering his tight economic situation, he's not sure he can afford to question his professional ethics.
Audrey Hepurn's regal persona made her a natural in this, her first major film role, which was so convincing she won an Oscar for her performance. Although she could be accused of eclipsing Gregory Peck, he does a convincing job of being rouge enough to take on the assignment, but soft enough to be swept off his feet. Eddie Albert as the somewhat slapstick sidekick, was nominated for best supporting actor.
Roman Holiday presents a contrast to many more recent romantic comedies. Subtle facial expressions are used to convey most of the emotional drama and, except for Joe's housekeeper who finds Ann in the bathroom wearing only a bath towel, everyone is well aware that nothing inappropriate has transpired between the two lead characters. The "Me" generation may also be a surprised when the couple decides that even when in Rome, you shouldn't take a holiday from responsibilities or principles.