Although it takes a breezy, sometimes silly approach to a fragment of a true story, this British period film has enough charm to keep audiences entertained, thanks to its lively cast and ambitious recreation of historical events. Director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) may be largely fictionalising what happened to real people on VE Day 70 years ago, but he certainly knows how to have some fun at the same time. And the film has some intriguing things to say about how the world has changed since then.
Victory in Europe was declared on May 8th 1945, and the streets of London filled with disorderly celebrations. Watching all of this from within Buckingham Palace, the teen princesses Elizabeth and Margaret (Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley) are desperate to get out there and mingle with the crowd. Their parents, King George VI and Queen Elzabeth (Rupert Everett and Emily Watson), reluctantly agree to let them leave with two military escorts (Jack Laskey and Jack Gordon). But they soon lose their chaperones in the party atmosphere in The Ritz. The ditzy Margaret heads off into the night visiting a string of parties, while Elizabeth tries to track her down, assisted by a helpful stranger, airman Jack (Jack Reynor), an anti-royalist who has no idea who this young woman actually is.
First of all, it's intriguing to remember that in 1945 people in the streets wouldn't have recognised the princesses, especially since they had essentially been locked out of view for the previous seven years. This is inconceivable now, as is the idea of revellers filling the streets celebrating victory in a war, because no generation since has had a war end on a remotely positive note. These kinds of themes add subtext to what is otherwise a frothy romp punctuated by moments of silly slapstick. Jarrold recreates the evening beautifully on-screen, with a real sense of the club-lined streets of Mayfair, the drug dens of Soho, the flag-waving crowds going wild in Trafalgar Square, and the bombed-out city returning to life.
Continue reading: A Royal Night Out Review
While this odd biopic is a real mess, it's not quite the cinematic disaster snootier critics claim it is. Essentially fan fiction, the script spins a story that has only the vaguest basis in fact, drawing much of its dialog from screenwriter Jeffreys' and book author Kate Snell's imaginations. And if what these people say to each other wasn't so laughably silly, the film's genuinely intriguing themes might have emerged with more force.
We pick up the story in 1995, after Diana (Watts) has been separated from Prince Charles for three years. She still hasn't moved on romantically, and spends most evenings alone in Kensington Palace, making beans on toast and quietly crying herself to sleep. So when she meets heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Andrews), she's relieved that he doesn't treat her like a princess. Over the next two years, their romance develops in secret because Hasnat is a very private man and Diana is the most famous woman on earth. Fed up with the intrusive paparazzi, Hasnat puts the brakes on their relationship. So Diana uses her friend Dodi Fayed (Anvar) to provide misleading headlines and spark Hasnat's jealousy.
Of course, we know their love is doomed for another key reason: the film is bookended by scenes in Paris on the fateful evening of 31 August 1997. But even if this romance has clearly been fictionalised, it offers some intriguing themes that catch our sympathies, mainly due to an understated performance from Watts that occasionally catches Diana with remarkable detail. So it's frustrating that Khan is portrayed as such an icy, uninteresting figure, which means that Andrews never generates any chemistry with Watts.
Continue reading: Diana Review