On May 8, 1945, VE Day, the royal princesses Elizabeth and Margaret ventured beyond the gates of Buckingham Palace to celebrate the end of the war in Europe and mingle with the celebrations on the streets of London. That much at least is true. But what follows in A Royal Night Out is the product of the imagination of scriptwriters Kevin Hood (Becoming Jane) and first time feature writer Trevor De Silva.
Elizabeth (played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon from Dracula Untold) is 19, and heir to the throne, and is aware of her responsibilities and sense of duty. Margaret (played by Bel Powley, from Sundance hit The Diary of a Teenage Girl) is 14 and much more flighty and carefree, and she just wants to have fun. Elizabeth suggests that she could gain some valuable insights into how the public perceives the monarchy. George VI (Rupert Everett) reluctantly agrees to let the girls go out to celebrate on the proviso that they report back to him about how his forthcoming speech is received by the people. And the two princesses are to be chaperoned at all times by a couple of hapless lieutenants (Jack Laskey and Jack Gordon) from the nearby Chelsea Barracks.
During a celebration at the Ritz though Margaret manages to give her escorts the slip and experiences the seedier side of London with a visit to a couple of unsavoury vice dens in Soho. She finds herself on the arms of a Naval officer with sinister intentions before being rescued by an affable gangster (Roger Allam). Elizabeth sets off to find her sister, and ends up spending the night accompanied by Jack (Jack Reynor, from Transformers: Age Of Extinction), an air force pilot who has had a bad experience during the war and who is currently AWOL from his unit. Jack is staunchly anti-monarchist, and the two frequently clash during the night.
The young Elizabeth is unused to everyday experiences like riding on a bus or paying money, and has to rely on Jack’s help to get by. Elizabeth gets a brief glimpse of the sort of life she can never lead due to her responsibilities. The implicit suggestion here though is that these experiences helped to shape her into the compassionate and empathetic monarch that she became.
Director Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited) brings a sense of authenticity to the film and its setting with his faithful period detail. And the soundtrack featuring the likes of Glenn Miller is also evocative of the period.
Gadon bears an uncanny likeness to the young Elizabeth and captures her strength of character and unexpected sense of good humour. However, one wonders what Queen Elizabeth herself will make of this portrayal! Powell is a livewire as the more playful and ditzy Margaret. Everett brings a sense of dignity to his portrayal of George VI, a role played so majestically by Colin Firth in the Oscar winning The King’s Speech, while Emily Watson brings a prim and stern demeanour to her role as Queen Elizabeth. As the bumbling chaperones, Laskey and Gordon provide some much needed light comic relief.
Based loosely on fact, A Royal Night Out is a lightweight and frothy romp and has something of an old fashioned feel. This is a film that could have been made by Ealing Studios in their heyday. And its release has been perfectly timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, which should add some further curiosity value.
Director: Julian Jarrold
Cast: Sarah Gadon, Emily Watson and Rupert Everett
Releasing in cinemas: 14 May 2015
For more of Greg King’s writing on film, check out his blog at filmreviews.net.au
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television