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‘A Royal Night Out’: War’s over, and princesses just want to have fun

By Kerry Lengel | Gannett News Service

Many a socialite has aspired to throw “the party of the century,” but none could imagine topping this one.

It’s May 8, 1945 — Victory in Europe Day — in England. The Brits, after keeping calm and carrying on through more than five years of existential terror, are ready to let their stiff upper lips down. And over at Buckingham Palace, the teenage princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are determined to join the fun.

That’s the setup of “A Royal Night Out,” a sweet cinematic trifle from director Julian Jarrold (“Becoming Jane”).

The real future Queen Elizabeth II, of course, never slipped out of the ballroom at the Ritz to chase her little sister to Trafalgar Square, nor did she catch a ride on a tugboat with an AWOL airman whilst the 14-year-old Margaret unintentionally abetted a kindly old mobster in his efforts to bring “comfort” to the celebrating troops. These imagined adventures are implausible, but they give the director an opportunity to paint an amusing slice of London life during a historic moment overflowing with both joy and sorrow.

“A Royal Night Out” is carried by terrific performances by Sarah Gadon (“Dracula Untold”) as a 19-year-old Elizabeth, mature beyond her years but keenly aware of the constrictions of her status as heir apparent, and Bel Powley (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) as a young Margaret fairly bursting with naive excitement.

“We’re going incognito!” she enthuses to a red-coated attendant, who drolly replies, “Does the tiara rather give the game away, ma’am?”

Rupert Everett gives a subtly affecting performance as the girls’ father, George VI, who is eager to hear what the people really think of his radio address (the reluctant monarch’s battle with a lifelong stutter was dramatized in “The King’s Speech”). Emily Watson is equally convincing as the imposingly prim Queen Mother, while Jack Reynor adds a dash of derring-do as the embittered Royal Air Force serviceman who comes to Elizabeth’s rescue.

[s3r star=3/4]

Atlas Distribution Co. and Ketchup Entertainment presents a film directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Trevor De Silva and Kevin Hood. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some sexual content and brief drug elements). Opens Friday at local theaters.