Directed by Julian Jarrold
Staring Sarah Gaddon, Jack Reynor, Emily Watson
There are times when you have to take “based on actual events” with a pinch of salt, at other times the entire Dead Sea. A Royal Night Out is probably closer to the latter, but it doesn’t stop it from being a rollicking good time. Provided, of course that this is your cuppa tea.
It is VE day 1945, and Britain is celebrating surviving its darkest hour. With the war finally over Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gaddon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) seek a respite from their royal duties and the gilded cage of the palace, hoping for one night out, incognito amongst the people. When Margaret manages to give their incompetent chaperones the slip and decides to head out for a proper night on the town, it is up to the more responsible Elizabeth to chase her wayward sister. With the help of a young airman, Jack (Jack Reynor), she must make sense of the world outside of the palace gates and try and protect her sister from herself.
A Royal Night Out trades heavily on various forms of nostalgia, be that for England, the Royals, the Swing era, or the Spirit of The Blitz – it all harkens back to a moment when all is once again right with the world and things were apparently simpler. However even though this sense of nostalgia may be this production’s stock in trade, it is not something that it blindly does, always willing to present a counter point to it. Often this is in the form of Jack, be it in his proletariat attitude or his brutal war experience, but plenty of other examples exist throughout. Never enough to derail or utterly subvert it, but just enough to give that hint.
Director Julian Jarrod does a fine job of conveying the period and the celebratory atmosphere of the night, showing a real press of humanity on the screen. He is helped along in this regard by the relentless and upbeat soundtrack (full of swing classics that highlight the era, keeping everything moving at a cracking pace), as well as a solid cast.
Gaddon puts in a solid performance as the young Elizabeth, managing to sink some depth and nuance in what could easily be a caricature. Yet it is Bel Powley as Margaret (or “P2, the spare princess” as she refers to herself) that is really the show stealer. Her combination of raw enthusiasm and complete naivety could easily come across as annoying, but the young actress has enough charm to pull it off. Rupert Everett and Emily Watson round out the Royal family as the King and Queen, putting in the quality performances you would expect from two such actors.
Ultimately A Royal Night Out is as about lightweight as a barrage balloon, and as historically accurate as a fairy tale. Still, it is a romp. If you allow yourself to go with it, just for Queen and Country you understand, then it is all a bit of jolly good fun.