Director: Julian Jarrold
Starring: Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Jack Reynor
You know that moment at Christmas when the extended family all want something to watch? It needs to be an entertaining little flick that’s not too heavy for your Aunt, not too long for your sleepy cousins and not too vulgar for your Grandparents. A Royal Night Out might well be the film that’s built for this scenario, laced with the sort of bawdy gags that’ll have your Nan chuckling and anyone under 30 cringing.
Set on the wild night of V.E. day, the story follows the future Queen of our nation as she’s let loose on the streets of London to join the celebrations. Lilibet (that’s Queen ‘Liz to you and I) and her attention-starved sister, Princess Margaret or P2 (“Princess 2”), break from their “Captain Calamity” style chaperones in search of a real, down-to-earth party experience. The whole thing is totally and unashamedly absurd. You’d expect lots of ridiculous action with such an outrageously mad set-up, yet nothing really happens in A Royal Night Out. The film carries the same vibe as walking lost around a busy club, looking for your friends amongst the heaving throng of bodies whilst an irritating drunk girl incessantly talks nonsense – it’s frustrating and a little tiresome.
The sheltered Lilibet is played with a fitting sense of reserved blankness by Sarah Gadon, the Cronenburg family favourite. Despite dominating the hearts and minds of her subjects, Gadon herself is outshone by the energy of Bel Powley. Powley’s lively portrayal of Margaret probably has the most to say about the nature of royal relationships, living fully in the shadow of a sibling and facing the realities of always playing second fiddle to her sister. Lilibet’s “one night only” love interest is a terribly written character, absolutely unengaging and completely lacking charm. Jack Reynor’s performance in the role isn’t much better, his delivery is all over the place and his accent is even worse. Why was an American-born Irishman was hired to play an English airman from 1940s London? It’s difficult to ever truly care about his escapades with the Queen when they share so little chemistry and he’s so unlikeable.
A Royal Night Out tries its hand at comedy but never produces anything beyond “ooooh, naughty!” double-entendres and some weak slapstick from the Laurel & Hardy army boys. The production design is a saving grace, packed street parties and lavish bars amongst war-wearied streets of London are splendidly recreated. It’s just disappointing that the film occasionally comes close to some interesting subjects (relationships banned by class, the differing effects of combat on the poor vs rich, the challenges of a damaged Britain emerging from the struggles of war), but never gives them more than a fleeting touch before swiftly moving on to the Princesses doing their silly posh voices at the next destination. It’s stupid and honestly quite annoying, but there’s probably worse ways to spend an hour and a half on a lazy Boxing Day afternoon when your suggestion of In Bruges was deemed “not appropriate for present company”.
A Royal Night Out is on wide release in UK Cinemas now.