Film review: A ROYAL NIGHT OUT, from ‘Built For Speed’

Speculative biopics about England’s royals have an erratic history. The King’s Speech was a fine depiction of King George VI’s battle to overcome chronic stuttering and establish himself as a leader while Diana was a ludicrous account of Princess Di’s clandestine relationship with heart surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan.  A Royal Night Out, which fictionalises the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret’s night on the town on VE Day in 1945, threatened to be a flaky and frivolous affair. While insubstantial and at times reliant on cliché it’s a lot more fun than we might have expected.

The film relies heavily on the idea of rigid royal protocol clashing with the chaos and frivolity of VE night as a surprisingly stern Queen Mum (as we know her) (Emily Watson) and husband King George VI (Rupert Everett) reluctantly allow Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) out of the cloistered world of Buckingham Palace to celebrate with the masses.  The two princesses are, however, chaperoned by two loyal but incompetent army officers Captain Pryce (Jack Laskey) and Lieutenant Burridge (Jack Gordon).   The ladies night of escapism sees Margaret harassed by a creepy naval officer, befriended by a London gangster as she winds up in an illegal gambling joint.  Meanwhile Liz has a romantic dalliance with disgruntled returned soldier (Jack Reynor).

Initially, it seems that this is a pretty flimsy premise for a movie but director Julian Jarrold successfully infuses the film with the elation of this massive street party and manufactures within this some amusing and mildly dramatic episodes. 

This film is undoubtedly an advertisement for the royals and an attempt to humanise them but it has plenty of fun with the princesses’ utter cluelessness about everyday life such as when  Liz, who normally has no cash, needs for cash needs Jack to bail her out when an officious bus conductor demands a ticket. 

As Liz, Sarah Gadon effectively mixes charm and naivety with a sense of burgeoning responsibility as she transforms from shy teenager into a nascent stateswoman keen to embrace her duty to England. The film’s trump card, though, is Bel Powley as an hilariously ditzy Margaret whose wide-eyed teenage innocence (she was 14 at the time) and manic energy constantly land her in trouble. The film attempts to make a comedy duo of the bumbling Captain Pryce and Lieutenant Burridge who managed to lose the two young women almost instantly but their mix of pomposity and stupidity is a little tiresome.  Emily Watson and Rupert Everett contribute fine performances as somewhat world weary royals tentatively confronting post war Britain.

While we see fleeting glimpses of bombed-out buildings, an opportunity has been lost to capture the brutal reality of the war and its impact on Britain.

A Royal Night Out is often quite funny, is moderately successful as a romance but is fairly tepid as a drama.  It’s a fluffy film but an enjoyable piece of escapism.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Julian Jarrold.

Release date: 14th May 2015.

Running time: 97 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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