Secret People (film)

Secret People is a 1952 British drama film, directed by Thorold Dickinson and produced by Sidney Cole for Ealing Studios, with a screenplay from Thorold Dickinson, Wolfgang Wilhelm, Joyce Carey and Christianna Brand. Secret People stars Valentina Cortese, Serge Reggiani and Audrey Hepburn and premiered in the U.K. on 8 February 1952. The film provided Audrey Hepburn with her first significant film role, leading to her big breakthrough in Roman Holiday.

Secret People
Original UK poster
Directed byThorold Dickinson
Produced bySidney Cole
Written byThorold Dickinson
Wolfgang Wilhelm
Joyce Cary
Christianna Brand
StarringAudrey Hepburn
Valentina Cortese
Serge Reggiani
Charles Goldner
Music byRoberto Gerhard
CinematographyGordon Dines
Edited byPeter Tanner
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 8 February 1952 (1952-02-08) (UK[1])
Running time
96 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom


In 1930, Maria Brentano (Valentina Cortese) and her younger sister Nora (Audrey Hepburn) flee to London as their father is about to be executed by his country's dictator. Seven years later, Maria unexpectedly meets Louis (Serge Reggiani), her childhood sweetheart, who is engaged in a plot to assassinate the dictator. Maria is persuaded to play an active part in the plan, but it all goes horribly wrong when the bomb they plant kills an innocent waitress, causing Maria much distress.


Audrey Hepburn

The film provided Audrey Hepburn with her first significant film role, leading to her big breakthrough in Roman Holiday: on 18 September 1951, shortly after Secret People was finished but before its premiere, Thorold Dickinson made a screen test with the young starlet and sent it to director William Wyler, who was in Rome preparing Roman Holiday. Wyler wrote a glowing note of thanks to Dickinson, saying that "as a result of the test, a number of the producers at Paramount have expressed interest in casting her."[2]


Although finished before August 1951 (the film was screened by the BBFC censors on 7 August 1951[3]), it didn't premiere at Odeon Leicester Square in London until 8 February 1952.[1]


The film reviewer for The Times found Secret People to be "a confused, inarticulate, disappointing film, neither as imaginative nor as intellectually exciting as it should be."[4]

In contrast, George Perry wrote in Forever Ealing that "...there is much of interest in the Ealing film, such as the moral dilemma of those who have to resort to force to overcome force." He also praised "a sensitive performance by Valentina Cortese, ...a substantial role for Audrey Hepburn", and felt that the film had been misinterpreted and "was in some respects ahead of its time."[5][6]


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