A Royal Night Out (2015)

Based On The Untold Story

With May 8th marking the 70th anniversary of V-E Day (Victory in Europe), which, in 1945, signified the end of the second World War — a time of huge celebrations matching the likes of New Years Eve, only on a grander, more significant scale — A Royal Night Out serves as a coincidentally timed tribute to the historically momentous event, focusing on the enchanting, alternately unruly and romantic exploits of the future English Monarch — a young Queen Elizabeth II — and her sister Margaret, as they are let loose upon London for one wild ‘magical’ night of partying and festivities as peace extends across all of Europe. Working as somewhat of a feminine bookend to the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech (2010), though ignoring historical accuracies — this is a fictitious account loosely based on fact — A Royal Night Out is a sure feel-good winner, a knockabout Cinderella-type chronicle functioning as a cheerful, vibrantly entertaining slice of imagined Royal family history.

'On Wednesdays we wear pink.'
‘On Wednesdays we wear pink.’

At the end of a devastating war that claimed the lives of far too many, there still existed a considerable difference between the classes in the United Kingdom; we had the Royals, living their life of nobility and luxury in Buckingham Palace while the common folk struggled and made huge sacrifices for the war effort. On the night of May 8th — which is the film’s ‘night out’ in question — King George VI (Rupert Everett), is anxiously preparing to give his ‘now famous’ V-E speech at midnight, officially ending the war-time conflict. But, as the age old saying goes, girls just want to have fun. With celebrations looming 19-year-old Elizabeth Windsor, or Lilibet — played by the majestically glowing Canadian actress Sarah Gadon — and her little sister Margaret — the chubbier, cheekier Bel Powley — wish to escape the palace confines to spend a night out in the London streets, in amongst the revelers. However, their parents, on the contrary, desire to welcome peacetime as solemnly as possible with both daughters by their side, as this episode was considered to be a pivotal turning point for the Royals, who were currently flanked between opposing love and hate from the sovereign nation. With the princesses — who had never previously been permitted out in public — keen to feel the firsthand jubilation in the streets, Elizabeth argues that more time spent out of the Buckingham fort would yield valuable insight into the people’s perception of the monarchy, aiding her future reign as ruler.

After some petty squabbling with their parents, King George VI hesitantly allows the girl’s out for the evening — though demands they report the people’s genuine thoughts of, and reactions to, his speech — with the skeptical Queen Mother, Elizabeth I, (Emily Watson) imposing a midnight curfew on their carousal. Cloaked in sherbet-pink chiffon, with two bumbling lieutenants (Jack Laskey and Jack Gordon) as their chaperones, Elizabeth and Margaret are sent off to the Chelsea Barracks for a night of relatively regimented revelry. Needless to say, the sisters have alternative plans of their own. Anxious to witness the real people’s party, the girls manage to slip past their escorts and venture incognito into the London night carnival, only to quickly lose each other amidst the clamor and roaring crowds. As the dynamic ditz Margaret is whisked away on a tide of booze, boys and double-decker buses, Elizabeth enlists the aid of bemused, cynical and ragged anti-royalist young soldier named Jack O’Connell (Jack Reynor), to help her track down her ‘adrift’ sister, with Elizabeth becoming, for one night only, one of her people.

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1945!
Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1945!

A film that gently probes the tension between internal palace politics and external public relations, A Royal Night Out is a mix of frivolous humor, affectionate drama and stunning 1940s costumes, with viewers following the fictionalized account of the ‘true story’ that sees the soon-to-be princesses ditch their minders and explore the London district unrecognized. Elizabeth’s shambolic search for Margaret takes her from the heart of London, Trafalgar Square, to the steamy backstreets of Soho, all the way to the badly battered and bombed East End, as a tender emotional rapport, a love-hate flirtation of sorts, develops between our heroine and the socialist serviceman Jack. While these naïve ladies of privilege are free gallivanting the streets, their nights veer into two very different directions; Margaret’s escapade is more about amusement and excitement as she bumps into an array of shady gentlemen and hustling ‘ladies of the night,’ whereas Lilibet goes on a journey of slight self-discovery, learning more about herself, her people and the cruel repercussions of the taxing war, while a forbidden ‘Romeo and Juliet’ romance blossoms between the lady of the crown and her strapping leading man.

Director Julian Jarrold, Becoming Jane (2007), proves to be a solid commander-in-chief and simply nails the playful tone and cheek, weaving a certain fairy tail magic into the flick — parts of the narrative encompass shades of Cinderella, reflecting the cooked-up servant girl’s need to leave the castle and go to the ball of balls, just like the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, who yearn to ‘rejoice’ with their people on this night of nights. Relatively unknown writers Trevor De Silva and Kevin Hood, Becoming Jane (2007), deliver an awfully clever, nuanced and humorous packed screenplay that’s touching yet also works on multiple levels, and makes for one entertaining fish-out-of-water tale, revolving around the young Royals.

This is not a 'royalty-free' image.
This is not a ‘royalty-free’ image.

Boosting A Royal Night Out is its gifted cast. Headlining the film is the delectable Sarah Gadon, Dracula Untold (2014), who etches such a sincerely honest portrait of the future Queen of England, Elizabeth II; Gadon’s good-nature, bashfulness and default decorum sell this Princess act flawlessly, as the actress skilfully balances Lilibet’s conflicting impulses amid her elegance and poise. Alongside Gadon is Bel Powley — coming off her head-turning breakthrough earlier this year, in the Sundance hit, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) — as the bubblehead Margaret, a role conceived principally as comic relief; Powley triumphs as Margaret, the Princess who inadvertently throws herself into age-inappropriate peril at every given turn. Jack Reynor, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), in a role that may foster some audience confusion with his namesake Jack O’Connell, is wonderful, balancing Gadon’s prissiness against his amiable roughness and quick-witted manner, with the duo sharing a natural onscreen chemistry as the star-crossed-lovers; though viewers steeped in historical knowledge should be familiar with the couple’s eventual foreseeable fate. Joining the principal cast are equally excellent support players, including Emily Watson, War Horse (2011), as the Queen Mother, Elizabeth I, instilling the character with subtle hints of humor, whilst Rupert Everett, My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), who strikes an uncanny resemblance to his Royal Majesty, adds a smidgen of quirkiness to King George VI, presenting a more frail, fretful figure than Colin Firth’s interpretation of the monachal head-of-state in The King’s Speech.

Shot in the United Kingdom and throughout parts of Belgium, A Royal Night Out conjures up a delightful sense of period from a modest budget; the crowd scenes bear an authentic sense of clamor, chaos and flavor. Adding plausibility to the picture’s overall visual charm, the stylish personality-driven costumes — ranging from exorbitantly sumptuous to tattered and unadorned — designed by Claire Anderson, Human Traffic (1999), make for a convincing separation between the conflicting classes, whilst the textured production design, by Laurence Dorman, Me and Orson Welles (2008), together with the stunning deep-hue cinematography of Christophe Beaucarne, Coco avant Chanel (2009), instil the flick with a genuine sense of grandeur, beauty and awe. Finally, the film’s peppy soundtrack utilizes a range of big band, brass-type instruments which culminate in a zippy bounce of sorts.

Reapplying makeup can be a royal pain!
Reapplying makeup can be a royal pain!

While never overstaying its welcome, A Royal Night out is a sweet, tender-spirited entertainer, the perfect escapism romp for those looking for a diversion. A fanciful serving of fabricated Royal Family antiquity, Jarrold’s whimsical Princess tale does feel a little clichéd and predictable, but stands to be a delightful guilt-free pastime nonetheless. Fueled by a sold team of filmmakers, combined with strong casting, A Royal Night Out is a spellbinding motion picture that shines with bona fide splendor and royalty. It’s a jolly-good time!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

A Royal Night Out is released through Paramount Pictures Australia