A Royal Night Out purports to tell the story of Princess Elizabeth (now Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret, who were allowed out on their own (-ish) on VE Day (i.e., the day that the German portion of World War II officially ended). The movie is exactly what you think it’ll be: a fun, lighthearted, embellished romp, with lovely costumes, cute boys, and nothing too challenging.
Lead actress Sarah Gadon (who you may recognize as the blonde sister from Belle) plays Princess Elizabeth as pretty much perfect. She’s kind, she’s responsible, she’s empathetic.
Bel Powley plays younger sister Princess Margaret as the flightiest, ditziest girl EVAH.
Rupert Everett plays a kindly King George VI, while Emily Watson is the more-concerned-with-propriety Queen Elizabeth.
And there’s Jack Reynor as creatively-named Jack, the airman who helps Elizabeth (and teaches her about The People).
The film is certainly cute. It’s maybe a bit too lightweight and predictable — you can sense each plot point coming about two beats ahead. But it’s fun to watch Margaret downing champagne and being unclear that she’s meeting prostitutes, and the climactic dance scene between the two sisters is full of energy.
And there’s some good comic relief from the two military guys who are supposed to be chaperoning the princesses.
Of course, while the concept of the film is correct — the two princesses did get to go out and hang with the masses on the evening of VE Day — it gets most of the specifics wrong. In reality, they went out with sixteen chaperons/friends, including their nanny; they all stuck together all night (OR DID THEY, conspiracy theorists?); and they were home on time.
Costuming A Royal Night Out
The costuming (designed by Claire Anderson) and hair (Lorraine Hill) are both very nicely done. Here’s a shot of the family on VE Day, for comparison:
Compare the two sisters with their daytime wardrobe.
The main deviation, costume-wise, is that Princess Elizabeth went out on VE Day in her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform, not the pretty pink evening dress that she wears on film. Anderson probably felt the need to shine things up a bit. She said, “I began with the imagery of the fairy-tale princesses and balanced that with the reality of the wartime restrictions…” (production notes). She also said that she was influenced by the photographs of the royal family taken by Cecil Beaton, “The shimmer and sparkle and the net and the fine tulle and fabric in those dresses were all an influence.”
Beyond that, however, Anderson tried very hard to adhere to the historical reality. For example, in dressing Queen Elizabeth, Anderson said, “I think the Queen of the time instead wanted to look more soft and comfortable and wore pastels so she could always be seen in a crowd — especially during the War in the East End of London. It meant she was able to be picked out in a crowd in her fresh, clean bright pale blue or soft pink.”
Replica and vintage jewelry was featured throughout the production. Queen Elizabeth’s brooch (above and below) is “a densely engraved 1946 brooch from American brand Eisenberg & Sons” (People and Things From a Precious Past).
The Swarovski crystal company reproduced various pieces of jewelry in order to add verisimilitude (and sparkle), including “five pearl necklaces with vintage clasps created using Swarovski crystal pearls, 20 pearl earrings, a copy of the Queen’s extraordinary sapphire engagement ring, and a recreation of Princess Margaret’s victory ‘V’ brooch that was worn by her as she stood on the Buckingham Palace’s balcony, gazing and waving at the crowds below.”
The same attention to detail shows in all of the minor characters’ and extras’ costumes. Anderson said,
“There is such an exciting, different variety of extras. We have got very wealthy, aristocratic people at The Ritz and socialites at the Curzon Club. Then we’ve got the working class and the ordinary, everyday people in Trafalgar Square, celebrating, with the off-duty military people who are celebrating. It’s such a broad slice of life, and such an amazing cross-section of society to look at. People didn’t have new clothes. They did look tired and exhausted, and elastic was very hard to come by. All those things informed how people wore their clothes. They wore things that were very worn out. They mended things and made do.”
Sadly, it’s been hard to find many pictures, but they really did a great job showing a wide variety of people. There’s the elderly upper-class wearing stuffy fashions at the Ritz, and a huge variety of classes in the streets, and even a brothel full of prostitutes — and they did a great job of keeping to the period and avoiding it all looking samey.
All in all, I’d give it a 3 out of 5. It’s not one you need to rush out and see on the big screen, but it’s not a waste of your time, either!
N.B., this didn’t happen on screen, but you know me and pups, so I gotta include it:
Have you seen A Royal Night Out? How many corgis is too many (correct answer: infinity!)?