Title: A Royal Night Out
Director: Julian Jarrold
Major Players: Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson
Out Of Five: 3
If you’ve ever wondered what the Royal Family say to each other on a balcony appearance, then Julian Jarrold’s A Royal Night Out (released next Friday, 15 May) sheds some light on it. As King George VI (Rupert Everett) and Queen Elizabeth (Emily Watson) acknowledge the crowds on VE Night, the Queen declares through clenched teeth – and an even more clenched smile – “I could murder a gin and tonic!” It’s probably the best moment of the film.
By all accounts, the events in the film are based on fact, that the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were allowed out of Buckingham Palace to enjoy the VE Day celebrations for themselves, as incognito as they could be. Much more than that, we don’t really know: the King actually tells his older daughter “nobody must ever know that this happened.”
This allows Jarrold to create an entire story about the two young women finding out what life was like on the other side of the gates. Essentially, it involves the two princesses becoming separated, with Margaret being taken to all sorts of disreputable haunts by a variety of different men, while Elizabeth is desperately trying to find her, with the help of airman Jack (Jack Reynor). They catch up with each other at a Chelsea Barracks party and then there’s the small matter of getting home.
For a director who made his name with uncompromising TV dramas like the award winning Appropriate Adult – also starring Emily Watson – and Red Riding, this is very much a change of tone for Jarrold, one that’s best described as a marshmallow movie.
Thoughts of Roman Holiday (1953) are unavoidable. In that one, the lovely Audrey Hepburn was shown the glory that was Rome by Gregory Peck, but here we don’t really see that much of London, apart from a few scenes clearly shot in The Mall, Trafalgar Square and outside Buckingham Palace. The rest of them, especially most of the crowd scenes, could have been shot anywhere and there are times when it’s painfully obvious.
While it’s essentially a royal fantasy, it’s also a film that plays it remarkably safe in its depiction of the Royal Family, never straying too far from the accepted versions of the Windsor’s characters. Which might account for why Princess Margaret is such a caricature, naïve and frivolous, ultimately sozzled and being pushed around in a wheelbarrow. That isn’t just down to the script, though, as Bel Powley overcooks the role with monotonous regularity. A touch of subtlety would have gone a long way, but thankfully Sarah Gadon gets closer to the right balance as Princess Elizabeth – wanting to do the right thing, but also wanting to be a person in her own right. And sorely conscious of how she’s protected from the real world, even in her role in the ATS.
It’s also intended to be a comedy, but there are times when that side of things is clichéd and saccharine – or should I say ersatz? There are definite shades of the Carry On films, especially when the tower of champagne glass comes crashing down, and the two officers entrusted with looking after the princesses appear to be first cousins of the British airmen in ‘Allo ‘Allo. We’re left with a charming but featherweight fantasy, and one that gets through purely on its charm.
Although it’s getting an extensive release, A Royal Night Out doesn’t necessarily need to be watched in the cinema. It would do just as well – perhaps even better – on the small screen. But wherever she sees it, your Gran will love it. It’ll be familiar territory for anybody whose parents experienced World War II at first hand, because they’ll have been brought up with their memories. For younger generations, it’s all too easy to see it as just a piece of froth about toffs.
A Royal Night Out is released nationwide on Friday, 15 May. There are special VE Day screenings around the UK on Friday, 8 May.