Peace breaks out for Lizzie and Mag in royal romp

A Royal Night Out (12A)

When I tell you this film features a scene where the woman who’s soon to become Queen Elizabeth carries her drunken sister (Margaret) away from a party in a wheelbarrow, you’ll probably think I’m pulling your leg. In the context, though, it all seems perfectly natural. 

It’s VE Day, World War 2 has just ended and the royal pair feel like kicking their heels up. After receiving grudging permission from mum and dad (King George and Queen Elizabeth) to go out on the tiles for the night and with two army officers chaperoning them – very poorly, it should be said – they trip the light fantastic for the next 90 minutes, trading in Buckingham Palace for a few hours communing incognito with ‘commoners’.

The gorgeous Sarah Gadon plays the teenage Princess Elizabeth. Okay, so she overdoes the ‘furrowed brow’ bit but she’s incandescent in the role. She shows a great likeness for the young ‘Lillabeth’ and also has the cut-glass accent down perfectly – no mean achievement for a Canadian.

After heading out on the town, she soon loses Margaret. She spends most of the night looking for her, with the help of Jack (Jack Reynor), a young pilot she runs into who has departed his regiment because they haven’t allowed him to grieve properly for a dead friend. 

Bel Powley is Princess Margaret to a ‘T’. She gets to say terribly British things like ‘I’m cheesed completely!’ before persuading her parents to let her drop her guard for a few hours.

Making films that take place within a 24-hour time frame is a dangerous practice. Here, it works a treat, right up to the morning after the night before – some very effective dawn shots here – when the worse-for-wear Margaret has to account for herself to her distraught parents. Lillabeth appears soon after with her humble military friend.

Reynor’s laidback demeanour is a perfect foil for Gadon’s state of near-constant tension. The film threatens to become romantic for a while but then hauls itself back, as it should. A padded-out Emily Watson plays the matronly Queen Elizabeth. 

The star turn, though, is Rupert Everett as ‘stuttering’ King George. If you haven’t had enough of this gentleman with The King’s Speech, here’s a lovely addendum to it. The look on his face when his daughters tell him they’ve spent much of the night travelling on buses is priceless.

While not totally original – plotwise it’s a kind of cross between Cinderella and Roman Holiday – this is a highly entertaining film, played out with great good cheer by a quality cast. 

The idea of a pair of young women who’ve never done anything as ordinary as make a cup of tea for themselves cavorting around unscrupulous establishments with disreputable individuals may be a hoary old formula but under the direction of Julian Jarrold it acquires a renewed vitality here.

The production values are excellent, especially in the crowd scenes. They’re buffeted nicely by some Glenn Miller jazz music that puts you rightly ‘in the mood’. Jarrold resists the temptation to go schmaltzy on us when the princess and the airman have to part, instead opting for a delightfully upbeat finale.

Did it all really happen? No, though the tagline for the film says teasingly, ‘inspired by true events’. Who cares; in a way, if it didn’t, it should have. Maybe they should write it into the Constitution that all heirs (and heiresses) apparent have to spend at least one night going from A to B in a bus. And cadge the fare off disaffected squaddies when they find their pockets are empty.


***** Excellent