Main Cast: Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley
Director: Julian Jarrold
The holidays are fast approaching and that means it’s a busy time around Chateau Maine. Normy and I are busy getting the house ready for a Hollywood Hills parade of homes designed to raise money for charity. This year’s beneficiary is the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home for aging industry workers. It’s a cause near and dear to my heart as so many of my old costars and behind the camera friends now reside there so I tap along the corridors rather routinely. Of course I, at an ever youthful thirty-nine, will never need to avail myself of their services. My constantly resurgent show-biz career keeps me eternally young. Of course, Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist, helps by keeping me constantly on my toes with three hundred triple time steps morning and evening.
Normy and I always have the Christmas decorations themed to world events and this year, as we have a number of props and set decorations left over from my recent filming of The Desert Song, we’re doing the house in a Middle Eastern theme as a tribute to the Syrian refugees. I asked my publicists office to send their ace new employee, Peter Lovejoy, down to the federal building to talk to the State Department about sponsoring several dozen families to come in and be my living nativity figures but was told that their visas are being held up by something called the tea party. Well, I know a thing or two about entertaining and I can throw a tea party better than anyone else so I called up the RNC and told them to send over their best to Chateau Maine in early December for a little holiday tea. I think I’ll have Starbucks do the catering – I do so love those festive little red cups they break out for Christmas. In the meantime, Normy and I will have the household staff continue to put little spun glass camels and burnoose garland on the tree in the front hall.
Tea parties always make me think of England so I decided to retire to the home theater where I went looking for something with tea, crumpets and the British aristocracy. What I came up with was the new film A Royal Night Out which opened in Britain this past spring and is due to open in American cinemas in early December. How it came to be in my to view pile I’m not quite sure. A Royal Night Out is the fictitious retelling of a real event, the celebrations in London on V-E day, May the 8th of 1945. We find ourselves in Buckingham palace where the Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) are feeling rather cooped up. At age 19 and not quite 15 respectively, their royal station and personal safety have necessitated a rather constrained existence and they long to leave the palace incognito to mingle with the crowds and join in the celebratory mood of the kingdom. Their parents, George VI (Rupert Everett) and Elizabeth (Emily Watson), are not so sure this is a good idea but finally relent that they may go as long as they proceed with army officers as chaperones (Jack Laskey and Jack Gordon) to a rather stodgy affair at the Ritz. The girls get all dolled up in pink formals and away the quartet goes. (And in real life, the princesses and a group of young friends went together to the Ritz and returned meekly to the palace at their 1 am curfew but this is the land of cinema where we need not stick to fact.)
Margaret, already showing the party girl tendencies that would define her life, wastes no time in ditching both the chaperones and the Ritz and heads off to Trafalgar square in a double decker bus to join the crowd. The more responsible Elizabeth, somewhat perturbed by this, goes in pursuit but, of course, boards a bus going a different direction where she stumbles across a young airman Jack (Jack Reynor) who becomes her escort and protector. Their chaperones, in the meantime, seem to have the attention span of gnats as they promptly forget their charges and end up bedding some young ladies of rather dubious morals. The two incognito princesses proceed to chase each other across London along with Jack and the erstwhile chaperones wandering through pubs, an underworld speakeasy which seems to double as an opium den, and a military ball. The romantic tension builds between Elizabeth and Jack as she learns more and more about the people she was born to serve and Margaret becomes so drunk she has to be trucked around in a convenient wheelbarrow. Eventually all comes right, everyone returns to their proper station, military or otherwise, and all the characters have learned a little about themselves and about life.
I enjoyed the film very much. It’s not high art or brilliantly constructed, but it has the same sweet British comic spirit that resurfaces every few decades, whether in the Ealing Studio comedies of the 1950s like The Man in the White Suit or the films of the 90s such as Widows Peak. The film meticulously recreates mid-40s London from the crowds in the square around Nelsons column to the back streets of Soho. There is an amazing attention to detail in the sets (Tim Blake, Steve Carter and Jille Azis) and costumes (Claire Anderson) helped along by Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography. I really felt like I was watching that bygone era unfold before my eyes. The use of light is, in particular, well done, with the contrast of bright interiors and the dark streets lit by every light that can be turned on by a population that has had to live in the dark for so long because of the risk of bombs.
The performances are a bit uneven. Jack Reynor is absolutely gorgeous as the erstwhile romantic hero (we know he can never really have Elizabeth) but has all the personality of one of Trafalgar Square’s marble lions. Wooden is an understatement. Sarah Gadon captures Elizabeth’s regal nature and shows us the conflict in the teenager between wanting to be an ordinary person wishing to have fun and what she knows she must inevitably become. Bel Powley is a riot as her little sister and everything comes alive when she’s on screen which isn’t often enough. Emily Watson captures the elder Queen Elizabeth’s composure and iron will. Rupert Everett seems a little out of his depth as King George VI. He has the mannerisms down but you can’t help but wish that Colin Firth was reprising his role from The King’s Speech.
By all means check out this little gem if it comes to a Cineplex near you. It’s worth matinee prices.
Scarlet coated footmen. Period luggage. Crashing champagne glasses. Pink gin cocktail. Ladies of the evening. Gratuitous pint draining. Gratuitous urinal singing. Wheelbarrow riding. Kindly mother. Uncomfortable breakfast conversation.