A Royal Night Out
2015, PG-13, 97 min. Directed by Julian Jarrold. Starring Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Jack Reynor, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett, Jack Laskey, Jack Gordon, Roger Allam, Ruth Sheen.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 11, 2015
Great Britain’s Princesses Elizabeth (Gadon) and her kid sister Margaret (Powley) kick up their heels to celebrate Victory in Europe in the trifling but larkish A Royal Night Out, which reimagines the exhilarating nighttime V-E Day jubilation in May 1945 during which two sheltered princesses mingle with commoners for the first time and briefly taste life outside the walls of Buckingham Palace. It’s a sobering experience for this pair of unworldly innocents as much as a celebratory one. Not surprisingly, the film takes extensive liberties with the facts. You can just imagine the pursing of Her Royal Highness’ lips upon learning of her younger movie self’s nocturnal adventures, which include riding a double-decker bus, chugging a pint in a pub, visiting a brothel, and feeling romantic attraction toward a baby-faced RAF pilot (Reynor) named Jack, whom she enlists to find the reckless Margaret, a party animal in the making, clearly destined for Studio 54 in future years. It’s a watered-down Girls Gone Wild for the extended-pinky set, a veddy British enterprise owing much to films like Roman Holiday, in which runaway princesses yearn for normalcy, even if for only a day. Like any girl, these heirs to the throne just wanna have fun.
Director Jarrold keeps things moving at a nice pace until the end, when the film becomes a thwarted fairy tale romance. It would be swell to think the future queen of England acted so assertively, so independently in her youth, but it’s highly improbable she defied protocol to exhibit such female empowerment. (Recall how she reacted to her daughter-in-law Diana’s brand of populism years later.) It’s at this point that A Royal Night Out takes its what-if scenario a little too far. The characterizations are sincere, but overly familiar: The pragmatic Elizabeth, the dizzy Margaret, the stuffy King George (a whispery Everett), and disapproving Queen Mother (Watson). It’s the cookie cutter Royal Family you’ve seen so many times before. Only the handsome Irish-bred actor Reynor as the AWOL airman and anti-royalist feels somewhat fresh, though Jack’s anger and embitterment lack plausible dramatic conviction. In the end, it’s difficult to reconcile the young Elizabeth depicted here with the monarch whose reign spans the longest in British history. The two just don’t match up. But one thing rings true. A Royal Night Out verifies something we’ve suspected all along: There’s no money in that purse.