Film Review: A Royal Night Out

by Vincent Chan

Rated M. Starring Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Emily Watson. Directed by Julian Jarrold.

So imagine this. It’s May, 1945. Your country has been at war for what is too long and suddenly the clouds lift. The war has ended and victory has been declared. In the words of Winston Churchill himself during a public announcement, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”.

There’s only one problem. You live in a palace with enough room to have more than a few corgis running around. And you’re also a princess of the time.

Thus is the premise of A Royal Night Out, which tells the story of the two princesses, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, who after persuading the King and Queen, venture out of Buckingham palace incognito to party with the people on that victory night (now famously known as Victory in Europe Day). While the historical recount of the event is probably much tamer (according to records, the Princesses got home just a bit after midnight – but they still had fun!), the movie gives itself a bit more liberty to tell the tale of two Royals getting the chance to be common for once in their life.

Sarah Gadon plays the responsible Princess Elizabeth. She’s got the heavy weight on her shoulders of having the crown come her way one day. Her sister Margaret is played by the adorable Bel Powley. While the film centres ultimately on Elizabeth, often it’s her sister’s antics that steal the scene with some great comedic moments, providing a good dose of British slapstick humour when needed. The film also boasts some respected talent with Emily Watson as the Queen Mother and Rupert Everett as King George, both making for good British accents and British politeness when called upon.

This film is a British film about British people in their British celebration. From the cup of tea to the stiff upper lip, British imagery is placed left, right and everywhere. Much of the film is fun simply watching the way people react in that British sort of way. At times, even just hearing what they say (e.g. ‘I feel completely…cheesed’) is a delight. There is something very amusing and charming about watching England being England.

However, this can also be a drawback for some. Humour is a subtle thing and a hard to pin down at times. What one nation deems to be funny may be plain weird in another. Sometimes I didn’t get the jokes because of the culture, and sometimes I got them but didn’t find them as funny as they were meant to be – probably because I don’t live in their culture.

As much as the film focusses on the princesses letting their hair down for a night, it’s also set in the backdrop of a different era which forms a bigger context of the film. This was a time when a nation had just gone through the ravages of war, a time when peace was a new found concept and when the Royal family was more than just another family. The Royals were the heart of the nation. They were a family whose portraits could be found in most households. It was fascinating to see the attitude and respect people had towards them. A Royal Night Out does a great job of capturing the affection the people had towards the Monarchy back then (and some would argue – still do now).

It’s with this that I found the portrayal of Princess Elizabeth both frustrating and revealing. Initially it felt like the performance of Gadon (playing Elizabeth) was a bit stilted. Like a cup of tea that just hasn’t been infused for long enough, the performance was muted and a bit dull. Yet it’s as the Princess comes to realise the great responsibility of what it will mean for her to be Queen one day, not only in character but in performance, that an air of conviction comes through.

There’s also a semi-romantic character thrown in through a soldier named Jack (Jack Reynor). Jack is a likeable enough character in the film. He’s a bit cheeky, a bit roguish and is sure to make a couple of girls swoon. His inclusion in the film however is a bit odd. A Royal Night Out is advertised as a comedy-drama. And it feels that way. There’s moments of fun, moments of seriousness, but I found the transitions from these moments jarring at times. Chuck in a romantic interest and it feels like there are too many balls to juggle. And this would be my main critique of the film. Two girls go out and get into a bit of mischief – do we really need a love interest just for the sake of it?

The thing is…tonight I get a chance to just be ordinary”

What does it mean to be someone else that is completely different from who you are now? For Princess Margaret, it’s letting loose and going all out. For Princess Elizabeth, it’s a chance to be ordinary for once. As I was watching the film I couldn’t help but be challenged to think what it must have meant for Jesus Christ to come into this world. The Bible says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. The God who was infinite became finite. God became man. Philippians 2:5-7 says this:

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

As I look at the Royal family today, I both admire and am fascinated with them. They are a family that has been born into a life not of their own choosing and will live completely different from most people. What it must have been like for the two Princesses to go out just one night and for once, to be unrecognised!

The Bible tells us a similar yet vastly different story. Like Elizabeth, Jesus was unrecognised when he came. He blended into the crowd of humanity and you probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if you saw him. Yet we are told that Jesus came into this world not simply for a night out to celebrate. Rather he came in order to die on the cross, so that the world would be able to celebrate a salvation found only in him. Now that really is something that is worth celebrating about.

A Royal Night Out is a jolly fun film. I’m giving it three out of five stars.

A Royal Night Out will release in cinemas in Australia on 14th May, and in the UK on 15th May.

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