A Royal Night Out (Julian Jarrold, 2015)
The release of A Royal Night Out could hardly have been timelier. With the birth of Her Royal Highness Charlotte this month, royalists are going cray for princesses, and not of the Elsa or Anna variety. Princesses are treasured by the public, and not just because of their divine outfits (though that is a large part of it – Kate Middleton’s fuchsia coat = LOVE). The Queen is getting on, but A Royal Night Out reminds us that she too used to be a beautiful young lass with a preordained future ahead of her.
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were allowed, on VE Day 1945, to wander the streets incognito amongst the celebrations for the end of the war. While in reality they were probably closely guarded, A Royal Night Out affords greater freedom in an assumedly fictionalised version of events. Escaping their chaperones, they head off for a night like no other – Margaret (Bel Powley) exhibiting spontaneous foolhardiness, and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) doing the sensible big sister thing and endeavouring to find her.
London comes across as extremely small here – though there are bus trips and cab rides involved it almost seems as if the action takes place across merely a few streets. While probably not intentional this seems appropriate given the cloistering nature of being a royal, even if it is on one of the freer days of their lives. Here Elizabeth is nineteen years old and is well and truly settled in her role as the future Queen. She shows no signs of adolescence, though her youthful beauty beholds a certain charm. While her one night of freedom is enlightening, the whole thing is rather depressing given the life she has to return to.
Sarah Gadon must have felt a huge pressure in portraying someone of such great importance, but it would be hard for anyone to criticise any aspect of her performance. She succeeds in balancing the fine line between annoyingly posh and rather likeable, and while the princesses’ vocal inflections are just asking to be mocked, you can’t roll your eyes at her for too long. Bel Powley is a hoot as fourteen year old Margaret (though Powley is twenty-three in reality) and her portrayal isn’t as kind. Margaret looks like a right old dope here, but when the audience laughs at her, it’s done in a mostly affectionate way. Unless you’re a staunch Republican, but then why the hell would you be watching this?
Rupert Everett takes over from Colin Firth in portraying the stuttering King George and doesn’t overplay it, while Emily Watson as the Queen Mother-to-be walks around with a stick up her backside, or so it seems. Jack Reynor is a bold choice for young soldier, Jack, and the attraction between him and Elizabeth doesn’t quite ring true considering he’s a bit of a dick. But then you remember she ended up with Prince Philip, so perhaps he isn’t that bad.
The big band music that accompanies the film serves to intensify the frivolity of the whole situation, and while being a princess might not be as wonderful as the fairy tales suggest, there is still a hint of happiness to be seen, even if it’s ever so brief. For royalists, romanticised ideas about princesses may be indulged, but there’s also something here to appeal to the everyman: thank god we don’t live that life.