Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This film about the two British princesses spending a night out in the “regular” world for once is set during V. E. Day, so there is some crazy partying, lots of drinking and drunkenness, some cigarette smoking, a man slips a woman a drug, the implication of sexual assault in one scene and unwanted kisses in another, implied sex scenes (including one man shown in bed with two women), some scenes set in a brothel and interactions with prostitutes, a nearly topless woman, a kiss, some cursing, some gambling, a scene set at a urinal, some fistfights, and a dead horse is shown being butchered.
‘A Royal Night Out’ goes the zany romantic-comedy route in its fictional depiction of two British princesses partying it up with commoners at the end of World War II. It’s a silly premise, but a mostly fun one.
By Roxana Hadadi
What would princesses do if given the opportunity to do whatever they want? Go out dancing, of course! And if drinking and kissing and befriending prostitutes happens too, well, that’s just “A Royal Night Out” giving us the kind of goofy hijinks we want out of our romantic comedies.
A fictional retelling of an actual historical event, “A Royal Night Out” imagines what could have happened the night of May 8, 1945, or V. E. Day. Victory in Europe Day was a massive celebration across the continent, and “A Royal Night Out” focuses on the festivities going on in London and how they’re experienced by Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon, of "Dracula Untold") and Margaret (Bel Powley), daughters of King George VI (Rupert Everett) and Queen Elizabeth (Emily Watson, of "Everest").
In reality, Elizabeth and Margaret did go out that night, but in a massive group with a number of chaperones. That storyline, of course, wouldn’t fly here, and so we get impressive amounts of champagne being drunk, the princesses giving the slip to the military officers in charge of watching them, and traipsing throughout London, stopping in nightclubs and brothels. It’s silly but fun, solid escapist watching for teenage girls and their parents.
The film first sets up the dynamic between the royal family: Elder sister Elizabeth will rule the country one day, and so her parents—King George, who didn’t want the throne but got it after his brother abdicated (the plot of the Oscar-winning 2010 film “The King’s Speech”), and Queen Elizabeth, stricter than her husband—expect a lot from her. Younger sister Margaret, nicknamed P2 (for Princess 2), knows that she doesn’t receive as much attention as her sister, but revels in the ability to get away with more. In fact, it’s Margaret who urges Elizabeth to convince their parents to let them go out on V. E. Day, and it’s her excitedness and spontaneity that drive most of the action of the film.
Because, after some light begging, Margaret and Elizabeth are allowed to go, tasked with listening to the King’s speech with their subjects and reporting back their reactions. As long as they’re “incognito” and don’t tell anyone who they are, they’ll be fine. But almost immediately, things go awry: The sisters lose their military chaperones and end up on separate buses going to different parts of London. With no idea of where Margaret has gone and without any cash or resources, Elizabeth is forced to befriend young pilot Jack (Jack Reynor, of “Sing Street”), who can guide her while she searches for Margaret.
He’s not particularly pleased about the task—he looks hilariously pained when Elizabeth finds him in a crowd with a girl on each arm, and derails his romantic plans by announcing that she’s his girlfriend—but of course there’s a spark between the princess and the pilot even though he has no idea who she really is. So as Margaret jaunts through the city, dancing in nightclubs and gambling in brothels and ending up in taxis with prostitutes, Elizabeth and Jack follow, getting to know each other better and debating various aspects of the war, the monarchy, and the future of the country all the while.
It’s all fairly ludicrous, but “A Royal Night Out” benefits from breeziness and that typically British dry sense of humor. Everett and Watson are predictably great (“What’s so special about going out?” the queen asks); Reynor is as good as he was in last week’s new release “Sing Street” (his sighing delivery of “We’ve got to talk about money” when Elizabeth keeps hitting him up for cash is a winner); and Gadon and Powley are excellent separately and together. Powley in particular has a certain zest that gives all her ridiculous antics a charming quality.
“A Royal Night Out” takes kind of a disappointing turn when Elizabeth’s storyline veers into “poor little rich girl” territory, though, and the romantic tension between her and Jack is so telegraphed as to be annoying. It’s forced, too, when the King and Queen tell the princesses “No one must ever know about this,” as if any of us viewers would actually believe this stuff happened. But that aside, “A Royal Night Out” is a carefree romp, a bit of escapist fantasy that’s difficult not to enjoy.
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