Verdict: An uncomplicated fairytale. Sit back, relax and don’t overthink it.
A Royal Night Out is the charming tale of the night Queen Elizabeth or Lilibet and Margaret were allowed out into London as the people celebrated the end of World War 2. It actually did happen – Elizabeth and Margaret did celebrate with their subjects that night, but that’s where the similarities end.
This is a genteel comedy of errors (and manners), following Elizabeth and Margaret as they lose their chaperones and venture out into the city and the chaos and celebration there. Elizabeth then in turn loses Margaret, who is a bit of a lovable ditz in this movie, as she continues her single-minded pursuit of dancing and celebration. And so begins Lizzie’s pursuit of her sister through London, accompanied by one dour and helpful, despite himself, Jack.
I’m part of the generation or two or three that only know Queen Elizabeth as:
That’s all she’ll ever be, so it was hard to reconcile the young, fun loving Lizzie with the image of the Queen. I only started enjoying the movie when I stopped thinking this was the future Queen Elizabeth I was watching. It was then that I settled into the charm of the movie.
Lizzie is the steadfast daughter, the one who knows what her future holds, but still wants to celebrate with the ordinary people. Margaret just wants to have a good time and goes where the crowd that night pulls her. They’re partners in crime, though Lizzie is forced to be the responsible one by birth and by nature. She chases after Margaret, and that’s how she meets Jack, an airman who’s gone AWOL, much to Lizzie’s disgust – but not enough to prevent her to ask for his help.
He helps her navigate London, following Margaret to various clubs and dances. Along the way, Lizzie learns of his experiences in the war and I suppose it’s the film’s way of wanting to open her eyes to realities she would not have understood otherwise.
There’s an undercurrent too of Lizzie learning what the people really think of her father, Bertie of The King’s Speech, and his Victory Day speech – and by extension of the royal family. The film is very British in that regard, with Jack actually being the only person who dares to not like what the King has to say. Through the film, Lizzie herself shows the audience she’s capable of being more than just a princess and well aware of her upcoming responsibilities – highlighted later when her father asks her to accompany him to a lunch with an American ambassador.
If this were any other princess, it would be an endearing love story, but as it is, it’s a bittersweet when Margaret is found and Jack and Lizzie have to part. It’s only at the end that the film relents and lets the characters succumb to their obvious chemistry in an off-screen kiss. Sarah Gadon and Jack Reynor are wonderful, prickly antagonists, who slowly but surely change as their relationship begins to evolve through the night.