A Royal Night Out takes a small part of a true story and then spins it off into a fiction. The known truth is that on VE Day in 1945, the young British princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, left Buckingham Palace to mingle with the crowds outside who were rejoicing after years of War.
We know that happened, but I think it’s fair to say the rest of the movie was made up. Having gotten permission to go out incognito, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) discover their mother (Emily Watson) isn’t going to allow them to have the night of dancing and being normal that they’d hoped. Despite their mother’s desire to keep things dull and stuffy, the princesses give their military chaperones the slip and end up getting separated.
Margaret ends up on an adventure where she unwittingly ends up in a brothel, mixing with some rather unexpected characters. Elizabeth meanwhile is looking for her sister and ends up getting the reluctant help of RAF airman, Jack (Jack Reynor), who doesn’t realise he’s stumbled upon a princess (yes, there are shades of Roman Holiday here). Elizabeth entreats his aid, and together they set out across London, and rather unexpectedly they discover a connection, with the princess finding out for the first time in her life what it is to be normal, while Jack has his ideas about his place in the world challenged.
For about the first hour I couldn’t quite see what the point of A Royal Night Out was. Now I’m not saying movies need a point, but here the film simply ambles along in an amiable and very light fashion, where it barely needed to make its main characters princesses. It’s the fluffiest of confections, that initially seems almost at pains not to be anything except a bit of light farce. It’s nice, and mean that as both compliment and criticism.
I half wondered whether it was expecting all its viewers to be extremely elderly, and so didn’t want to do anything that might cause too much excitement and give then a funny turn.
There’s humour that will make you smile but not laugh, silliness that will amuse but not delight, and a plot that moves forward but doesn’t get that far. Thankfully, it does slowly reveal a little more, particularly with Elizabeth, who opens up as she discovers what it is to be treated as a normal person, without the strictures and expectations of royalty. It’s sweetly handled and occasionally rather affecting, and the chaste romance between Jack and ‘Lizzy’ works well.
Even so, it doesn’t add up to an awful lot and although an easy watch, it never rises above the level of being a mild diversion. It’s the sort of movie where it feels like it was very close to being extremely good, but everything from the script to the direction need a little more work and thought to get it there. There is some wit and charm, and I never disliked it, but if you asked me in a month to tell you about it, I’d have to think hard to remember all that much.
Overall Verdict: More an okay night on the sofa than A Royal Night Out, the film is diverting and has some really good moments – particularly when Elizabeth is weighing the possibilities of normality against a life of duty – but it doesn’t add up to a huge amount.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac