A Royal Night Out

Director: Julian Jarrold (2015)

A pair of incognito princesses roll out the barrel and celebrate VE Day among their unsuspecting subjects in this entertainingly light-hearted fictional romp.

It’s the evening of 8th May 1945 and the UK is having a right royal knees up. Heir to the throne Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and younger sister Margaret (Bel Powley) are determined to join in the fun they can see from their palace window.

Their plan is drop in on the festivities in Trafalgar Square and head on to The Curzon Club before an crashing all night party at Chelsea barracks.

Margaret is the more wayward, wilful and ditzy of the two and happy to lead Elizabeth astray. In a switch from real-life, Margaret is presented as the more dowdy when compared to the raging beauty of Elizabeth.

It’s a lovely and lively comic performance by Powley who gives it plenty of royal welly. Gadon is ravishingly bewildered as her big sister.

There’s more than a hint of Cinderella and The Prince and the Pauper and it’s played with the infectious feel-good energy and saucy innocence of the original St Trinians movies.

Among much enthusiastic flag waving, fisticuffs and spiked drinks, there’s a pair of engaging central performances, some choice period dialogue, all manner of alarming accents and Glen Miller on the soundtrack.

Julian Jarrold has form with quality period drama having previously directed Great Expectations (1999) Becoming Jane (2007) Brideshead Revisited (2008). With energy and an eye for detail he convincingly recreates the foggy demob-happy delirium of the sepia-tinged era.

Sipping champagne and slipping their chaperones, the girls head to the teeming Trafalgar Square and adopt the names ‘Lizzie’ and ‘Mags’  – perhaps not travelling as incognito as they imagine.

Soon separated by the throng of celebrants, Lizzie must locate Mags and return her to the palace before midnight and the king realises they are missing.

The stammering King George VI is played by Rupert Everett haunted at every turn by Colin Firth‘s Oscar-winning role as the same character in The King’s Speech (2010). Everett also appeared in the successful if lacklustre St Trinians remakes.

His screen wife Queen Elizabeth the Queen mother is played by Emily Watson.

Unsure of her way around and naturally not carrying any cash, Lizzie falls in with a hunky working class airman called Jack (Jack Reynor).

She coyly persuades him to help her in her mission and he reluctantly agrees – even though her cloistered worldview keeps landing her republican-leaning would-be saviour in trouble.

Among the characters they encounter in the gambling dens and knocking shops of Soho are royalist gangsters, Scottish henchmen and warm-hearted whores. The British officers are weak-chinned, drunk, philandering incompetents – which seems fair enough.

If I ever thought the royals were this much fun in real life I’d almost consider voting for them.