When I went into the screening for A Royal Night Out I thought I knew what I was going to get: a stuffy post World War II film about two pretty sheltered princesses getting a dose of reality in the outside world for an evening. What I didn’t expect was an adventurous romp through London like a restrained Superbad but with the Royal family involved in 1945. Sounds absolutely crazy, right? Yes, that’s exactly how I felt watching it, although, I have to say a smile never left my face.
Director Julian Jarrold has had an interesting career, starting out in the late eighties doing television until his debut film in 2005, the much loved Kinky Boots, which has since become a massively popular Broadway show. Since then he’s been behind the Jane Austen bio pic Becoming Jane and the dark serial killer trilogy of films Red Riding and in the case of the latter, totally proving he has range. This is not made obvious in A Royal Night Out but his ability to surprise us very much is on display.
The film centres around Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) on V.E. Day. Hours before their father, King George IV (Rupert Everett), is due to deliver his message over the radio to the people of Britain, Margaret convinces Elizabeth to encourage their parents to allow them a little freedom. This comes in the form of celebrating the end of the German war with the massive crowds all of over the city of London but in order to do this the princesses must go “incognito,” which becomes a funny repeated line throughout the film.
Upon the King’s urging to grant the girls’ wishes, the Queen (Emily Watson) allows this to happen but orders some military chaperones, much to the dismay of Elizabeth and Margaret. Even worse, they find they’ve been duped into attending a party consisting of the high aristocrats of the city, rather than the”ordinary people” they were seeking. The girls end up finding a way to escape their appointed watchdogs and go out into the town on their own. This, unfortunately leads to the girls getting separated, turning the film’s focus to Elizabeth chasing the trail of her sister around the city.
The fun ride this story takes the characters on and the farcical nature of the whole film make up for the more dramatic moments the film falls flat on. Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley are very charming in the film, Gadon playing Elizabeth with a nice and characteristic earnestness while Powley gives “P2” an innocent wide eyed wonder that works hilariously in some of the more adult situations and venues. It makes it easier to swallow that Margaret is supposed to have been fourteen at the time (Elizabeth was 18).
Everett and Watson do some fun as the worrisome parents biting their nails at home once the girls haven’t shown up for their one A.M. decided curfew. The fact that they’re the King and Queen of England just adds that much more in the layering of how absurd the whole situation is. It’s also a pretty close approximation in some aspects to Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter who played them in The King’s Speech, the subject of that movie being nodded to a bit during the first few minutes of this film.
As I was saying earlier, some of the more serious pieces of the film don’t really work, some appear to just be there to offset the comedy and make you remember that this is about two very real people. It doesn’t mesh with the knowledge that this wild and unforgettable night is a complete fabrication and embellishment. That’s a real bummer too because the young airman (Jack Reynor) that ends up aiding Elizabeth through the night has a certain charm you can get behind.
When the last image faded from the screen at the end of A Royal Night Out, I couldn’ believe how much I enjoyed the film. Maybe it was the sheer simple fact that this film depicted to princesses on a whirlwind sort of monarchy “hall pass” night away from Buckingham Palace, where they visit a “knocking shop” of all things, just hit my comedic sensibilities it just the right way. As a result, I think it’s totally worth checking out. I give it a four out of five.