fri 19/07/2024

A Royal Night Out | reviews, news & interviews

A Royal Night Out

A Royal Night Out

Newcomer Sarah Gadon shines in film that is no royal flush

Sibling revelry: Bel Powley and Sarah Gadon as the young Margaret and Elizabeth

The ongoing penchant for all things royal reaches a momentary impasse with A Royal Night Out, an eye-rollingly silly imagining of what the young Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth might have got up to on VE Day.

Its release timed to coincide with the pro-monarchy rush of feeling that the latest royal birth has only intensified, Julian Jarrold's film will please those who want to feel as if they're vaguely au fait with the House of Windsor while getting to glimpse some rather grand houses in the process. If as much attention had been paid to the script as was lavished on the decor, the results might have been happier all round.

The chief reason for seeing the film is an attention-grabbing turn from Canadian actress Sarah Gadon, the 28-year-old here playing substantially younger as Elizabeth, heir to the throne, yearns for a night on the town so that she can sample being "ordinary", at least once in her life. With younger sister Margaret (Bel Powley, the stage actress's wide eyes and raised voice her now established signature) in tempestuous tow, the two head out into the celebratory streets, elude their two stooge-like minders, and let romance and recklessness hold sway before being returned to the Palace in the wee hours much to the disapproval of George VI (a weary-sounding Rupert Everett) and the eventual Queen Mum (a suitably matronly Emily Watson, pictured below). 

That the two young 'uns could on this evidence thread their way through the crowded streets unnoticed doesn't convince for a second, even in an age before Instagram and tracked our every move. (Powley's vocal shriek would, one assumes, have been an instant giveaway.) While Margaret gets increasingly soused the more she revels in going "incognito" (her pet word), the more sober-sided Elizabeth finds a prince charming in a Cockney soldIer called Jack (Jack Reynor, excellent), who to his amazement finds himself at Buckingham Palace breakfasting with his king. That the smitten Elizabeth in real life plumped for Prince Philip gives momentary pause for thought.

It might help if screenwriters Trevor De Silva and Kevin Hood could hold to a consistent point of view, but it's never clear whether they and their director are playing these (largely fictionalised) proceedings straight or for satiric value - a subplot involving the expert Roger Allam in unexpected gangster mode (presumably Ray Winstone was busy) doesn't land at all.

Are we meant to condemn the gay abandon with which the privileged are here able to send a tray of champagne glasses crashing to the floor or ought we instead to feel for Margaret's desire to move beyong the "ghastly mausoleum" of her palatial home? Either way, Powley is an irritant from first to last, and it's a relief when attention shifts to the older "Lilibet", however much the intermittent stabs at local colour miss the mark. There's an especially daft moment involving a stroppy bus conductor who won't allow VE Day reductions aboard her vehicle; what's her problem, one wonders? 

Some lovely moments do exist. One feels for King George's desire to use his daughters' foray into a sort of freedom as a chance to test the popular opinion (Everett and his brood are pictured left), and Mike Leigh regular Ruth Sheen does well by a (fanciful in the extreme) vignette whereby she finds herself playing host to the future queen. The cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne's muted visual palette makes its own neat point, understatement on every front being the order of the day - except, alas, for poor Princess Margaret who at one point has her drink spiked. The royals and date rape: now there's a headline.

Gadon ploughs through it all with an equanimity and ease that seem absolutely true to the person she is playing. Indeed, watching this gifted actress do what she can to keep a wayward vehicle on course, I found myself pondering that day in three or four decades when she finds herself heading a major stage revival of - what else? - The Audience

Overleaf: watch the trailer for A Royal Night Out 


Understatement on every front is the order of the day - except, alas, for poor Princess Margaret


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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