Pulling a page right of history and the diary of a young Queen Elizabeth, screenwriters Kevin Hood and Trevor De Silva, together with director Julian Jarrold, have crafted a “what if” fantasy of royal proportion with “A Royal Night Out”.
As has been discovered over the past years, on the night of VE day, then Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret went out into the revelry of the night with the commoners of England. Documented in her diary by Elizabeth herself, “Out in the crowd again. Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Pall Mall, walked simply miles. Saw parents on balcony at 12:30 am – ate, partied, bed 3am!” Beyond that entry, we know not exactly what the girls did, but Hood, De Silva and Jarrold posit just that in this frothy confection of fun, “A Royal Night Out”.
Taking us on a tour of nighttime London, we follow Elizabeth and Margaret on their adventures about town, including Elizabeth’s flirtation with a handsome Air Force lieutenant, a rather tipsy Margaret (who gets pushed around town in a wheelbarrow by Elizabeth, all to great laugh-out-loud hilarity), the separation of the girls and Elizabeth’s hunt up and down dark alleys to find Margaret, parties upon parties, meeting “ladies of the evening” and service men alike, and of course, the proverbial unhappy parents when one wanders home at 3am. (Turns out royal parents are as strict about curfew as anyone else.)
As Elizabeth, Sarah Gadon is polished, confident, yet with a streak of fun, while Bel Powley steals the show as Margaret. And dare I mention Gadon’s flawless British accent. (Although Gadon is Canadian, her grandmother was British and served England during the war.) “I studied with a really great dialect coach named Brett Tyne. . .[W]e do a lot of prep before we go to camera so I’m fully prepped before I’m there and don’t have her on set. It’s important to me because I like to see a level of competence in myself where I don’t really need somebody there watching me by the time we go to camera.” Then, there was royal training. “We met with a royal consultant and took etiquette classes. I read a lot of biographies about the royal family, I watched clips, I listened to audio.” To achieve the elegance of movement and stance, Gadon called on her own dance background noting, “In terms of the physicality, I have a really strong dance background. I took ballet from a very young age. So, in terms of posture and movement, all of that is something I borrowed from dance.”
A comedic darling, Powley reminds me of Imogene Coca with her comic style, and her performance just fills you with exuberance akin to that of VE Day. Jack Reynor enchants as Elizabeth’s knight in shining armor Jack, and Gadon and Reynor have a chemistry that is filled with razor-edged wit laced with tenderness, finding a balance with equally sweet and funny moments between the two. But, the joy and fun of the chemistry amongst Gadon, Powley and Reynor is gleefully infectious! Emily Watson is sterling as the stuffy disciplinarian Queen Mother while Rupert Everett is charming, albeit a bit frail, as loving father King George VI.
From Laurence Dorman’s production design to Claire Anderson’s period perfect costuming to Christophe Beaucarne’s lensing to the inclusion of popular swing tunes of the day buttressed by Paul Englishby’s score, “A Royal Night Out” is an upbeat toe-tapping delight! But while there is plenty of frivolity and fantasy to be had, Jarrold and cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne develop a metaphoric palette that contrasts the darkness and destruction of a war torn London while celebrating victory with a subtle removal of wooden window planks that have darkened the halls of Buckingham Place during The Blitz, as a newly confident Princess Elizabeth imbued with a “commoner” understanding strides down the hall to meet her parents after her night out. A significant moment not only in the film, but in the life and legacy we have since seen in Elizabeth during her reign.
So fun, so uplifting, so beautiful, and filled with the big band swing music of the day, you want to run and put on your dancing shoes to join in the fun with Elizabeth and Margaret. To borrow from Glen Miller – you’ll always be “in the mood” for “A Royal Night Out”!!!
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Written by Kevin Hood and Trevor De Silva
Cast: Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Jack Reynor, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett