When the Second World War ended on May 8 1945, London was determined to see the day out with a bang, not a whimper. The whole world appeared to be celebrating - apart from two certain princesses by the name of Elizabeth and Margaret. What to do? According to this film, which was "inspired by" real events, Lilibet and P2 (as the princesses were affectionately known to their family) begged to be let out among the masses - only to be assigned an escort of two army officers and taken to a stuffy party of geriatric gentry. But where there's a will, there's a way and the princesses are soon having the night of their lives - escorts be damned.
The central premise of this so good, you wonder why Working Title (the outfit behind Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) didn't make it during their heyday. Canadian actress Sarah Gadon plays the serious-minded heir to the throne Elizabeth, while Bel Powley is the playful Margaret, who (if this film is to be believed) gives her older sister the slip and runs off with a dashing but caddish naval officer, setting a pattern for the future. Elizabeth, meanwhile, meets a troubled working class airman, who she commandeers to help her in her search for her sister. It's refreshing to see a version of London that isn't so carefully sanitised. Thus we get the capital's bombed-out centre, rather than the Richard Curtis chocolate-box offering.
While the princesses really did leave the Palace for the night, something tells me that their night out was a bit more sedate than this. A Royal Night Out is a bright and breezy affair you could take your mother and grandmother to see. It's enjoyable enough with some good lines that are sure to raise a chuckle or two. The film wisely doesn't overstay its welcome, coming in at just over an hour and a half. However, you can't help wishing that the filmmakers had waved the script under the nose of someone with a vagina - and paid attention to the comments. The princesses are the only three-dimensional female roles and this sort of film cries out for a more substantive supporting cast. Having said that, Gadon and Powley are ably abetted by Rupert Everett and Emily Watson as King George and Queen Elizabeth. But you can't help but think that a better director than Julian Jarrold would really have made this film zing.