Audrey (2020) and Her Life

in The Netherlands

By Diana-Teodora Gaitan | May 13, 2021

Illustration by Regizol / Pixabay

In light of the new documentary about Audrey Hepburn’s life, Magazine Reporter Diana Gaitan dives into the not-so-glamorous parts of the Hollywood actress’ life and her connection to the Netherlands. 


When the name Audrey Hepburn is mentioned, we are quick to picture an idealized version of the award winning actress from the peak of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The poster of the 2020 documentary Audrey is a portrait of the icon: it is the face we have commodified, the one we bought illustrations of and used as aesthetical decorations. I feared that this documentary wasn’t going to dive deeper than that picture of the perfect woman that we associate with Audrey: the woman who is elegant, gracious, beautiful and caring. While possessing these qualities, Hepburn was also a talented artist who managed to transform one-dimensional characters into emancipated heroines such as Holly Golightly who couldn’t be owned by anyone. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that this documentary does address Audrey’s genius. One of the speakers highlights that she was not defined only by beauty, but also by curiosity. Audrey Hepburn was an icon, but above all, she was a complex artist.

The documentary successfully depicts the less glamorous aspects of the actress’s life: the period she lived in hiding during the Second World War, her estrangement from her father, the misfortune she had in love and the sudden illness that struck her right after she found her purpose in activism. Her life during the Second World War is something that we, as students in the Netherlands, should know more about. Between 1939 and 1945, Audrey and her mother lived in Arnhem, where Audrey’s grandfather had served as mayor. While she moved houses a couple of times, there is a plaque attached at Jansbinnensingel 8A. It is also known that she stayed at Rozendaalselaan 32 in Velp. At age 10, she attended lessons at the Arnhem Conservatory. 

Her time in Arnhem was marked by the German occupation, which brought famine and fear. Food supplies were so low that her family had to use flour made out of tulip bulbs. Audrey turned sixteen when the city was liberated. After the war ended, her mother decided that it would be best for them to move to Amsterdam, where Audrey could take ballet lessons and further develop her talent. Although she lived in Amsterdam for about three years, not much is known about the exact location of the one-room apartment she shared with her mother. We do know that her mother, a baroness, had to work as a cook and housekeeper for a rich family in order to support their stay in the Dutch capital. Audrey studied ballet with Sonia Gaskell and Olga Tarasova, and appeared in the 1948 film Dutch in Seven Lessons. That same year, she moved to London where she received a scholarship at the Rambert school of ballet.

I would have personally liked to know more about Hepburn’s time in Amsterdam in order to walk in her footsteps. With that being said, I am also content knowing that she must have wandered through the same uptown streets we do as students. While we often shy away from finding similarities between ourselves and Audrey the icon, we are tempted to recognize the resemblances between her life and ours. Of course, we live in far better times than Audrey did during the Second World War; but based on my experience, student life in Amsterdam can be sprinkled with obstacles. Audrey also faced challenges but she survived and worked hard to find her destiny. As we begin to perceive her more as a human being rather than a larger-than-life icon, we can become even more inspired by her resilience. 

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