"Pygmalion" Movie Plot

by Eleanor McKenzie Google
Shaw's play is about the transformation of a London Cockney.

Shaw's play is about the transformation of a London Cockney.

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"Pygmalion," the play and film, and the film "My Fair Lady" with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn are based on the Greek myth about the sculptor Pygmalion. He sculpts a statue of a girl that the gods bring to life, and then he falls in love with her. The film versions, based on George Bernard Shaw's dramatic interpretation of the Pygmalion myth, are both about creating a persona and then falling in love with the creation.

The Bet

Eliza Doolittle is a flower seller in London's Covent Garden. She has a strong London Cockney accent, which means she pronounces "hardly" as "ardly" and says "ain't" instead of "isn't," among many other deviations from standard English. Two expert linguists, Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, meet Eliza one night, and Higgins demonstrates how he could change the way she speaks given the chance. The following day, Eliza turns up at Professor Higgins's house and asks for lessons. Higgins has a bet with Pickering that he can pass her off as a duchess within six months, and Pickering takes the bet.


Eliza moves into Professor Higgins's house for intensive elocution lessons. However, her father, Alfred Doolittle, turns up and essentially blackmails Higgins into giving him money. Meanwhile the lessons with Eliza progress, and she copies his pronunciation quickly enough. However, she has problems with correct grammar, and he has trouble teaching her the type of social manners befitting an aristocratic lady. Nevertheless, Freddy Eynsford Hill, an upper-class acquaintance of Higgins, falls in love with Eliza. Professor Higgins's mother warns him that he will hurt Eliza by training her for a lifestyle she can never be part of.

Winning the Bet

Higgins passes Eliza off as being upper class, which means he has won the bet. At this point in the story he appears bored by the whole process and ignores Eliza. She threatens to leave his house and the two have a fight, during which Higgins almost hits her. Eliza leaves during the night; the following day, Higgins goes to his mother's house looking for her. He realizes that he can't function without her and is so desperate to find her he considers calling the police.

The End

Actually, Eliza has been at Mrs. Higgins's home all the time. She claims Colonel Pickering is responsible for her transformation, which naturally infuriates Higgins. At this point her father turns up, and Eliza reverts to her former Cockney style of speech. At this point, Higgins claims he has won the bet, and he and Eliza have another fight, this time about Eliza's future. She threatens to sell information about Higgins's training method and support herself with the proceeds. Higgins recognizes that Eliza is now his equal and the story ends with Eliza saying goodbye, but leaving Higgins with the feeling that she'll come back to him.

About the Author

Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.

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