Somewhere between The King’s Speech and Baby’s Day Out lies Julian Jarrold’s A Royal Night Out, a featherweight flight of historical fancy that follows a young Queen Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and an even younger Princess Margaret (Bel Powley) as they join the festivities on V-E Day.
Jarrold is best known for the feel-good Anglophile fantasies Kinky Boots and Becoming Jane, and A Royal Night Out is a genteel, succinct venture in the same vein. With little context for the princesses’ lives during the war (or those of the countrymen who dance and drink beside them), the film relies heavily on the coltish charms of its young leads, and Powley’s effervescent, well-timed performance as the younger princess (she calls herself “P2”) is skillful enough to bring out the screwball latencies in an otherwise bland screenplay.
Alas, there’s no John Hughes around to lovingly shape the teenagers’ escapades; this romantic caper’s only antagonists are the girls’ stiff, mustachioed escorts, and the script cheekily subjects the younger princess to some rather unfair creative liberties, at one point having her pass out drunkenly in a wheelbarrow.
Minor indignities aside, the film is mostly distant with politesse. Gadon is a delicate and dignified future monarch, while Emily Watson and Rupert Everett do their best in the tiny roles of Queen Elizabeth and King George VI — Everett soldiers on in makeup that makes him look like Ted Cruz. All together, the pack of them feel a mite too sincere and dewy-eyed to have just come through a war. Elizabeth’s short-term love interest, played by Jack Reynor, is an emotionally traumatized RAF deserter who’s not too damaged to flirt, cavort, visit the palace, and, when his time’s up, leave politely — something audiences may find themselves doing as well.
A Royal Night Out
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Opens December 4, AMC Empire 25