Here's the first thing you need to know about A Royal Night Out if you're going to enjoy it at all: throw the history books into the fireplace. This frivolous and spunky trifle is set in London in 1945 on VE Day when Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were allowed celebrate the end of WWII on the streets of London with the commoners. What happened that night? Apparently lots of dancing, flirting, and making out with handsome soldiers. Chances are nothing like this happened at all, but imagining that it did turns out to be quite a lot of fun.
Directed by Julian Jarrold, whose refined tastes veer from the stuffy Brideshead Revisited to the cheeky Kinky Boots, the film stars Sarah Gadon as the future queen, Elizabeth aka "Lillabets", and breakout star Bel Powley as Margaret aka "P2" because she's like the runner-up princess. While it takes a bit of convincing for King George (Rupert Everett, bringing the famous stutter seen in The King's Speech) to convince the current Queen Elizabeth (Emily Watson), the girls are allowed to hit the streets incognito for a night of frivolity, music, and questionable decisions. Basically, they get to be real girls not figureheads stuck behind Buckingham Palace's walls.
Part of those questionable decisions involves ditching the stick-in-the-mud guards assigned to them, but it also leads to Margaret and Elizabeth getting separated. Not good since Margaret turns out to be a drunken tart, hilariously slurred speech and all, who throws herself at any handsome soldier boy within reach. Margaret is the semi-responsible but impassioned one, and even she falls under the gaze of a cynical infantryman (Jack Reynor) who has just enough of a good heart to escort her throughout the night. Isn't he just such a gentleman? They argue, mostly in broad strokes about the war and its meaning, but never enough to snuff the romantic sparks.
There isn't much in the way of conflict to speak of, but then that's probably a good idea. The two biggest sources of tension are whether Elizabeth will *shocker* kiss that handsome soldier at the end of the night; and if the King will punish them for staying out too late. Can you ground a royal princess? Set against a jazzy big-band score, A Royal Night Out breezes along effortlessly with a fanciful spirit. Gadon, who too often plays buttoned-up and serious, gets to loosen up a little bit. Just a little. Powley is fantastic once again, but it would have been nice to see more of her and Gadon together. They're separated far too long when it’s the dynamic between the two princesses, finally out and free in the world, which is of greater interest than Elizabeth's first taste of puppy love.
Rating: 3 out of 5