Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller
Directed by: Julian Jarrold
Starring: Sarah Gadon, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson, Jack Reynor, Bel Powley
Expecting A Royal Night Out to be anything other than a very light-hearted, very British affair would be nothing other than a royal mistake – a well-researched, historically accurate docu-drama this is not. Think of it as an interesting perspective of a key moment in our history, however, and we’re on to something.
On May 8, 1945, Britain was celebrating. Germany had surrendered, the war was over and hostilities in Europe had ended. A country was rejoicing, and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were allowed to leave the palace to spend the night among the revelling crowds. Those are the facts. A Royal Night Out takes these facts and spins them into an unlikely turn of events that sees the princesses embark across London on a journey filled with mishaps and adventures.
As Princess Margaret, Bel Powley buzzes about with excitement over being allowed out of the palace incognito, while Sarah Gadon, as her more sensible older sister Princess Elizabeth, demonstrates a more reserved happiness in a performance that is eerily on-point. After the two sisters are inadvertently separated in the crowds, Margaret is happily swept away by the decadence and liberation of the evening, while Lizzie finds herself in the company of a young soldier named Jack (Jack Reynor), whose outspoken views and experiences in the war challenge her own.
Of course, the tentative relationship that forms between Lizzie and Jack will have its critics and in all honesty it is pure Hollywood in its execution. But were this film about anyone other than the future Queen, the romantic subplot is handled sensitively enough to be considered not beyond the realms of plausibility. As it is, however, Jack should be seen as less of a love interest and more of a foil to Elizabeth’s cultured, privileged and protected upbringing. He is her guide to post-War London, escorting her from Trafalgar Square to Soho and Chelsea Barracks via a Thames river bus that reveals that although the War is won, Britain would still need several years before it could recover completely.
Gadon really steals the show with her grave expressions and reflective countenance that make it quite easy to see why she was chosen to portray the future Queen Elizabeth II. In one stand-out scene, she stands among the crowd outside Buckingham Palace and watches as the King and Queen make an appearance to the jubilant cheers of a nation. It’s truly a beautiful cinematic moment, and the camera passes through hordes of cheering, hugging, kissing civilians and soldiers to linger on Elizabeth’s awed reaction as she realises the British public have a great deal of respect and admiration for the royal family who helped them get through this War.
But while the actors’ individual performances are more or less spot-on, the crowd shots are the ones that stuck with me after the credits rolled. Introduced as they were with archive footage from the celebrations in 1945, the sight and the sound of a nation of people celebrating the end of a six-year ordeal were chaotic enough to feel authentic without feeling overdone.
What has passed through generations as an amusing royal anecdote has been dramatised for film, albeit in a highly improbable suggestion of events. Beyond the entertaining hijinks of a jaunt across London in pursuit of an unruly younger sister however, A Royal Night Out also offers itself as a borderline coming-of-age story about a young woman contemplating the overwhelmingly daunting future ahead of her.
The film itself is short and sweet but more importantly it celebrates a moment of history that is worthy of being remembered. And if that moment happens to come wrapped in the form of a feel-good British comedy, that’s even better.