‘A Royal Night Out’
Director:
Julian Jarrold
Stars: Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

We’re a culture no longer cool with printing the legend. We want the truth, and if our movies fudge even a few facts, an army of think piece writers will storm in with articles tut-tutting “What X Gets Wrong About Y (and Why it Matters).” The people who write those will find their heads exploding at “A Royal Night Out,” which openly lies about a tall tale the filmmakers didn’t find tall enough. On V.E. Day, young, pent-up English princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) wanted desperately to join the celebrations ringing in war’s end. In reality they wandered through the crowds, incognito, with a cousin as their supervisor. 

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In “A Royal Night Out,” though, they get to break free from their restraints and go on their own adventures. There isn’t much plot here; just an impressive amount of street partying, all the more impressive for recreating period, with swarms upon swarms of reveling extras, on the cheap. It moves too: Our heroes are out on the street by minute 10, after only a bit of groveling to King George VI (Rupert Everett, going light on the stammer) and Elizabeth the Elder (Emily Watson) to let them out of Buckingham. Eventually the two split up. Elizabeth the Younger cavorts with a righteously angry, anti-monarchist Naval officer (Jack Reynor) to learn some lessons about how the other, bottom half lives. Powley’s Margaret winds up getting giggle-heavy soused, bro-ing with bootleggers and other fun ne’er-do-wells.

It’s a fantasy, and one for two people who may not need it, although maybe they do. Elizabeth, long the figurehead of all that is wrong with the rickety English class system, has only started being humanized in plays and films (most of them starring Helen Mirren) in the last decade. Without underlining and italicizing it, or ruining the fizzy vibe, “A Royal Night Out” entertains the notion that what keeps the desiccated monarchy in place is that the royals aren’t allowed to fraternize beyond the occasional impersonal handshakes. There’s a melancholy running underneath it all, even in its portrayal of a time when princesses might be able to hobnob sans detection, without millions Instagramming them to death. Still, longtime English social realists Ken Loach and Mike Leigh would likely not give this a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge