Two For the Road is a radical departure from all other Audrey Hepburn films, and it nearly didn’t happen. The script was actually written with Audrey in mind, and when director Stanley Donen (who had worked with her before in Funny Face and Charade) sent her the script, Audrey had initially refused. Donen and writer Frederic Raphael actually flew out to Switzerland and visited Audrey at home to convince her to take the part. She had been wary because the film was a bit risque for her: swearing, scanty bathing suits and even suggested nudity. She was also a mother now, and her marriage was going through a bad time, so the story about the ups and downs of a relationship had touched a sore spot with her. Luckily, Donen was able to win her over, and a brilliant film was made.
Two For the Road has no set time line narrative. It skips back and forth through time without warning, which takes some getting used to for the viewer. To make it easier on you, just watch Audrey’s hairstyles: they’re all different enough to give you an idea of where you are in her character’s life to mark time, since co-star Albert Finney never really changes. Finney was also one of the few leading men Audrey worked with that was actually close to her age — seven years younger than her, in fact. But she greatly admired the up and coming actor, and Finney helped open up a new side of Audrey during filming. Until this point, Audrey had been nearly an untouchable lady, always perfectly poised and regal, and safely sheltered in her Givenchy wardrobe. But times were changing now, and Audrey needed to change with them. Her beloved Givenchy was replaced by off the rack clothing by younger, more mod designers like Mary Quant, and Audrey herself needed to change. While working with Albert Finney, she began to loosen up and relax on set, laughing and running about like a girl again. She and Finney became extremely close, and were described by coworkers on the film as almost being like children, with their own personal world filled with in-jokes only they knew. They often went out to dinner together, hitting nightclubs afterward. Rumors flew about an on-set affair, but both Audrey and Albert stayed mum about it. To this day, Finney refuses to talk about what may or may not have happened between them.
Affair or not, this rapport between co-stars shows in the film. This is a more passionate relationship than any Audrey had ever played before, and there was none of the coldness and distance in her love scenes with Finney that there had been with her other co-stars, even with George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. During Joanna (Hepburn) and Mark’s (Finney) happier times, you can see the affection for each other plainly in every word and gesture, and during their darker moments, you can still see an underlying current of love that not even years of bitterness can completely staunch. This is a real love story.
Joanna is a timid young woman traveling with a women’s choir when they happen to cross paths with an obnoxiously brash Mark Wallace, backpacking across Europe while constantly misplacing his passport. He is, of course, drawn to a busload of women, but fate pushes him and Joanna together. The epitome of opposites attracting, it’s hard to see Mark and Joanna working in the long run, and the jump cuts in the film show you that they might not make it. There were plenty of good times, of course, as a young poor couple taking their yearly holiday, but as time goes on and the money starts coming in, they seem to have lost that simple happiness. To compound things, neither Joanna nor Mark seem to know what they really want or need from the relationship or each other, so they just end up taking it out on each other. If you’ve been in a few serious relationships you may find parts of this movie very painful to watch, but you find yourself compelled to keep watching because of this exact pain. You know it’s real, that this is what relationships are actually made of, and that part of growing as a person is going through these same things.
Personally, I would highly recommend Two For the Road. It’s one of my favourite Audrey films, though I definitely had to grow into it. This is the sort of movie you may watch when younger and scratch your head at, or even pass off as bad, but on catching it years (and possibly relationships) later, you see it again for the first time. It definitely takes some maturity to really understand it — and maturity from Audrey to take the role and add so much of herself to it — but it is well worth it when you do get it. Even the ambiguous ending seems okay, because what is life and marriage but a long, twisting road? You can’t see the end until you reach it, and Mark and Joanna were definitely not at the end of theirs by the close of the movie.