A Royal Night Out
(M) Starring: Bel Powley, Sarah Gadon, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett
On the night of VE Day in May 1945, the daughters of King George VI were allowed out for the night. Factually, it’s documented that Elizabeth and Margaret walked down Piccadilly to the Ritz, where they indulged in party activities, while chaperoned by more than a dozen young soldiers and retainers. Where the facts end and the fiction of cinematic licence takes over is in A Royal Night Out. Now showing at our cinemas, this British comedy-drama film is loosely connected with the historical record of what happened that one unusual night.
Young princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) was 19, and the heir to the British throne. As we witness on-screen, she pleads to be able to celebrate VE Day with the people — and younger sister, Margaret (Bel Powley). Initially, Elizabeth receives a very firm rebuff from Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (Emily Watson). Not content with “No” for an answer, Elizabeth’s pleading to the King (Rupert Everett) results in him agreeing to their absence. He asks her to report back about the peoples’ feelings towards him, as well as his midnight speech on the radio.
Before they leave, “Bertie” (aka the King) practices his radio address speech in a scene that channels The King’s Speech. Unbeknown to the girls, their mother makes a call to an officer in charge at Chelsea Barracks and asks for two trusted officers to be assigned as chaperones. They make their appearance as the princesses are excitedly preparing to depart the Palace (they’ve been instructed to be home by 1am). From that moment, the “comedy” commences.
Jack Laskey as Captain Pryce and Jack Gordon as Lieutenant Burridge present as characters more suited to a 1950s Carry On-type film. It soon becomes apparent that Pryce would prefer to be living it up like the rest of London. He leaves Burridge at his post, guarding the door of the room where the Monarch’s two children have been consigned to a dull socialite/diplomatic evening. This is clearly not what the girls were expecting.
Matters of the Crown eventually give way to the pleasures of the world. Margaret makes her move and, soon after her older sister realises her absence, Elizabeth also takes flight. At this point, A Royal Night Out‘s storyline picks up pace. On a bus, the future Queen meets Jack (Jack Reynor), a young airman. As Elizabeth comes to learn, a lack of consideration from Jack’s commanding officer — following the death of his mate in combat — resulted in the airman’s cynicism about the war effort.
Margaret is led by a less-than-noble Naval Officer into a world of nightclubs, gambling, spiked drinks and brothels. Elizabeth and her airman friend have their own adventures trying to catch up with Margaret, which take them far beyond curfew. For a time, the real comedy takes over in A Royal Night Out. Many scenes of nonsense are included, which are more like what we’d see in the movies of Blake Edwards. There are hammed-up fights, and a military officer caught with his pants down, racing through the assembled throng of upper-class guests in “long johns”. All this could have easily been something from Blake Edwards’ zany 1965 caper, The Great Race!
Set principally indoors with external scenes of a war-torn London, A Royal Night Out still manages to capture the real sense of a population excited that a world war is over. The black-and-white historical footage adds to the sense of the mood in the British capital on that VE night. But while it is a timely reminder of the events of 70 years ago, A Royal Night Out does not rank highly against other “royal” movies.
The film’s end brings with it surprises, no doubt more fiction than fact. Yes, like most stories involving a princess, it has a happy ending.
We often have been reminded that “the Queen was not amused”. However, I suspect Her Majesty may have a quiet chuckle as she recalls what really happened on that Royal Night out!