On VE Day in 1945, princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) venture out of Buckingham Palace to join the throngs celebrating in the streets. Seizing their chance to enjoy life on the streets of London goes rather wrong – as these things are wont to do – and ‘Lizzie’ and ‘Mag’ find themselves gadding about the city, and in a lot of trouble with their dad.
Before everyone goes crying active imagination on the part of A Royal Affair, it seems true that Elizabeth and Margaret did venture out of the Palace on VE Day, but perhaps had a less eventful night than their on screen counterparts. That said, the film does seem to embellish the truth quite a lot, and not always to great effect.
In fairness to Sarah Gadon, she actually does a pretty good job with Elizabeth’s accent, Bel Powley’s is fine too, but poor old Jack Reynor seriously struggles, with his accent flitting across the British Isles and, quite often, into Ireland. In terms of performances, it is hard to tell whether they are strong or weak, since they are so heavily hidden behind accents, twee writing and characters drawn rather silly and rather broad. That said, Rupert Everett does quite well as King George – albeit more similar to Prince Philip than we have seen the character before – and Emma Watson makes the Queen Mum a formidable figure.
Kevin Hood and Trevor De Silva does justice to the collectives sense of joy and celebration on the streets of London at the end of World War II, but does little to make Elizabeth a rounded character and Margaret anything other than a selfish dolt. The shenanigans that the two get up to would simply not happen if the characters were drawn more true to who they develop into later in the film, and were written to be more aware of who they are, rather than two generic sisters on a night on the town. That said, the juxtaposition between Gadon’s character and Reynor’s is often fun to watch.
Director Julian Jarrold obviously had good intentions for A Royal Night Out, but struggles to make the characters anything more than caricatures and the situations anything other than silly. The energy and look of the film are commendable, but the film runs out of steam and credibility rather fast, meaning A Royal Night Out turns into A Royal Wild Goose Chase with very little payoff other than a few awkward giggles.
In all, A Royal Night Out takes a small and rather unknown event and turns it into the basis for a film, but since the event itself is rather small, the film struggles to fill its running time, and does so with silliness and selfish behaviour. As well as this, the characters are drawn too broad to be engaging, and I feel pretty sure that Princess Margaret will not be too pleased at being portrayed as an airheaded dolt on screen.