The film spans from her early childhood to the 1950s which details her life as a Dutch ballerina, coming to grips with her parents’ divorce, and enduring life in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II. Audrey then settles in the U.S. where she succeeds in making it big as a movie actress, in such movies as Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The film begins with adult Audrey in her role of Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. The shot begins with her getting out of a taxi and standing outside of Tiffany’s, eating a pastry. However, the powdered sugar on it keeps causing her to sneeze. She begs Blake Edwards, the director, to let her have an ice cream, but he explains that it’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and nobody eats ice cream for breakfast. Audrey protests that she does, and Blake negotiates by letting her have a pastry without powdered sugar. Truman Capote, the writer, complains to Blake that he didn’t want Audrey, that he wanted Marilyn Monroe, because she knew how to eat. In defense, Blake tells Truman that Audrey is one of the nicest actresses he’s ever worked with, and that she’ll be staying on as the lead. Audrey is shown being determined to impress Capote, and asks a friend of hers on the set if his daughter will be there that day. He says yes, and brings her over. The girl presents Audrey with a bouquet of roses, and Audrey hands her a rose and looks intently at the girl. She then looks far off into the distance, and her mind shows us her as a little girl in Holland.
She dances to pass the time and to keep her mind off things, and her mother sends her to a dance school in England for protection. She quickly makes friends in her classes, although she did not want to go because her mother had to remain in Holland after dropping her off. She does enjoy the class, though, even though she has to work very hard. Audrey, is told that she will see her father, whom she has not seen since her parents divorced when she was five. He sees her when he puts her on a plane back to Holland, but, since he was a Nazi sympathizer, he is taken away. Audrey returns to Holland where her mother is part of liberal meetings and plots to get rid of the Nazis. Audrey listens in a meeting where she hears that they need someone who doesn’t look suspicious to deliver messages for them. Audrey volunteers, much to her mother’s consternation, but Audrey says that she wants to help. Audrey delivers the message, but soon an elderly man asks her to do something for him. The man is later interrogated by Nazis and shot, and Audrey quickly hides in an abandoned shed. It shows how Audrey had to hide from Nazi soldiers for a week, and coming home nearly starved to death. When the war is over, soldiers come to where she is staying with her mother, and Audrey is just well enough to see them pass by in a parade. A soldier offers them chocolate, which Audrey loves, but it quickly makes her sick again.
Audrey moves to New York to do more dancing. Now an adult, she makes new friends at the studio. Soon into her training, she is told by a ballerina instructor later that she will have to work very hard if she wants to become a ballerina, and that she will not get a full scholarship to the dance school she is attending. However, the dance instructor sees that Audrey would not thrive in a career of dance, and soon tells her to leave the school altogether.
After a friend, Kay Kendall, suggests it, Audrey begins working in clubs and soon goes on acting auditions, even though she still wants to dance. She finally gets the role in a film, and, although it is only one line, she assures her friends that it’s a good one. It turns out to be, “Hello, who wants a ciggie?” (meaning cigarette) and she soon meets James Hanson, a rich baron. He spoils her and soon proposes to her. They go to one of his private estates and spend the night together (in different rooms) where he asks her to marry him. She tells him that, although she tells him that she loves the manor, she could never live here. He says that, if they got married, they could live wherever she wanted. With that, she accepts his proposal.
Audrey soon gets the role in the stage play “Gigi” and in the film “Roman Holiday”. She and her co-star, Gregory Peck, are rumored to be having an affair, which her mother tells her. Audrey gives a press conference afterwards, and denies the affair. When the reporters ask about her family, she shows the press that her mother is there with her. When asked about her father, Audrey tightly says that he is a man who keeps to himself. After being interviewed, Gregory Peck tells her that she did a good job, and introduces her to his friend, Mel Ferrer.
When “Gigi” premiers, the audience enjoys it, and, despite the fact that the critics know she’s not a professional actress, they say that she is the taste of the evening after the first performance of “Gigi”. At the after party, when the review is read, photographers immediately circle her and take her picture. James and Audrey walk home later, and he says that she can have whatever she wants, but after Gigi tours, he would like to marry her. Audrey sadly tells him that she can’t settle down, and that she wants to launch her career before she does. She asks him to let her go, and he agrees. She walks away from him and into a taxi, leaving him alone on the street.
After getting the title role of Sabrina, Audrey confides in her mother that she’s falling in love with he co-star, William Holden. Her mother quickly reminds Audrey that he is married, and Audrey tells her that she knows, but somehow it doesn’t matter to her. After flirting with her constantly on set, William tells her that he’s crazy about her, and he’ll do whatever he can to be with her. Later, at night when they are taking a walk alone on set, he says that he meant what he said about wanting to be with her. Audrey says that she won’t be his mistress, but William says that he’s getting a divorce to be with her. Gleeful, Audrey starts planning their future, telling him about what they will do together and about the children they will have. William tells her that he already has children, and that he doesn’t want any more. Audrey presses further, telling him that perhaps one or two would be a good compromise. Finally, William confesses that he can’t have children, as he had a vasectomy. Tearful, Audrey asks if it can be reversed, but William says that it can’t. Sadly, Audrey says that it wouldn’t be a marriage without children, and walks away from him.
She later meets Mel Ferrer again, when he comes to her house. He brings her flowers and tells her that he has a play that he will be working on, and asks her to do it with him. It is Ondine, the Water Spirit, and Audrey quickly agrees, moving from Hollywood to New York to do it on Broadway with him. The pair soon fall in love, and it is soon announced that Audrey has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Roman Holiday. Her mother and Mel watch the ceremony, and her mother remarks that Audrey looks tired. Mel says that he intends on proposing to Audrey, and that he loves her very much. Audrey’s mother tells him that he doesn’t need her blessing, but reminds him that Audrey desperately wants children. Although he already has children, Mel replies that they will have as many as she wants.
Audrey and Mel marry and move to his house in Switzerland, and live a quiet and idyllic life until Audrey is offered the lead role in “The Nun’s Story”. She takes it, and Mel also accepts another film project. It is revealed that Audrey is pregnant with her first child, and Mel was hesitant to give his support on her participation in the film, but he finally gave it to her. She has to ride a horse and falls off, and is taken to the hospital. Her mother soon joins her, and Mel arrives soon after. A nurse says that she has a letter, and that it is from her father. Audrey’s mother looks guilty as Audrey reads that her father has written other letters to her in the past, and she’s angry that she hasn’t seen them. Mel leaves the room and encourages the nurse to leave as well as Audrey has it out with her mother. Her mother says that she hid his letters from her to protect her, and Audrey claims that he is an old man now and could not hurt her. In that moment, Audrey’s anger gets the better of her and she goes into pre-term labor and miscarries her child.
She goes to see her father and he is very short and distant with her. He invites her in and they engage in a tight-lipped conversation over a cup of tea. He tells her that he heard about the miscarriage and that he’s sorry to hear about it. Audrey says that it doesn’t matter, and the doctor says that they can try again. Her father continues to look uncomfortable, and Audrey says that if he needs to do something that he can, as she would be fine just sitting in his presence. He leaves the room and comes back with a dog, and Audrey remarks that she has a dog as well. When Audrey leaves, she asks him to come and see her, but he declines. Audrey tearfully asks why her father doesn’t want to see her, and he says that he was never a good father to her, and why she wants a relationship with him is beyond him. Audrey says that she will come to see him, and he tells her she doesn’t have to. When she says she wants to, he tells her not to bother.
Audrey returns home and apologizes to her mother for how she acted. She explains that she understands what her mother was telling her when she said she was afraid of her father hurting her. Then, her mother asks her what she wants to do now, now that all of this is behind her. She asks if she’s going to do another film, and Audrey replies that she’s going to have a baby. The next scene shows Audrey, Ella, and Mel at a christening ceremony for their son, Sean. Some time later, we see Audrey, Mel, and little Sean content in their solitary life together, and Mel asks her if she read a script that came for her. Audrey says that she knows the plot, and that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is not for her, because Holly Golightly is a call girl and that she could never play a role like that. Mel explains the story a bit more to her, and then says that their son, Sean, told him yesterday that he wants to see New York.
Audrey takes the role of Holly Golightly and her mother, Mel, and Sean are all on the set with her. She is still eager to impress Capote, and has not done so, yet. When asked if she knows the meaning behind the final scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, she replies that Holly, too, is just a wet cat, and that she needs to accept herself the way she is, and accept the man that she loves in her life, and that being a wet cat is not a bad thing to be. Finally moving Capote, Blake Edwards tells her that they’re ready to shoot the final scene, but only have enough film for one take. Jokingly, Audrey asks if he’s being serious, and Blake says that he is. He then asks her if she can do it, and she tells him that she can. The crew cues the rain and Audrey quickly gets into the taxi, and gets out when she’s supposed to. She races across the set, trying to find her cat. Her love interest is standing in the rain behind her, also looking for him. Audrey demands to know where he is, and he replies that he doesn’t know. Audrey hears the cat meowing, and soon discovers him seeking shelter from the rain in a box. Audrey grabs him and holds him to her and begins to laugh, throwing her arms around George Peppard. They embrace and kiss while the rain falls around them, and Blake Edwards yells cut, declaring the scene perfect. Audrey looks around for Mel, and they put their arms around each other and kiss for the whole crew to see. Ella comes up with Sean, and Audrey takes him into her arms as the cast and crew swarm her, congratulating her and George as the film ends.
The closing credits include footage of the real Audrey Hepburn during one of the UNICEF missions she undertook near the end of her life.