To celebrate the declaration of peace across Europe, VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) is cause for a huge celebration, including Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The excitement amongst the British public is palpable and the princesses want to join in the celebration amongst the masses incognito. Against the Queen’s wishes, the King agrees, on the proviso that they report back on the peoples’ feelings towards him and his midnight speech on the radio and get back by 1am. Chaperones are arranged and off they go, but the planned itinerary by the Queen does not live up to their expectations of fun and meeting the ordinary people, so mayhem begins with Margaret slipping away without telling her sister, who desperately tries to follow Margaret, but they get separated and the trail of comedic moments begins!
The premise of the comedy that follows is that neither men they befriend realise who they really are. Margaret is led by her Naval Officer into a world of nightclubs, gambling, spiked drinks and brothels. Elizabeth’s airman is indifferent to the King and does not seem to be interested in carousing like all the other men that evening, so she senses an element of trust and doesn’t let him go until they have secured Margaret’s safe passage back to the palace. Of course, Margaret is a party girl and there is no way they will return to the palace by 1am and Elizabeth does her best with the airman’s help to shield Margaret from any unpleasantness that may arise.
The story is a ‘what if’ scenario, as there is a suggestion that maybe in real life they did venture out incognito, but we will never really know. The film really is carried by Sarah Gordon (Princess Elizabeth), Bel Powley (Princess Margaret) and Jack Reynor (the airman), with great support from Rupert Everett (the King) and Emily Watson (the Queen). If you know the Princesses characters in real life, the characters writing and portrayal of each in this film is quite real and makes it all more enjoyable.
There are some amusing moments thanks to Princess Margaret’s travails, but there are a lot of flat moments (too) of just trailing Elizabeth and her airman as they try to trace Margaret’s movements and catch up to her. The film is dotted with small moments of humour from the palace staff to the men that run a brothel, but overall the film is not as entertaining as expected, so a bit more consistency would help. The best line is when Margaret sits in front of her parents back at the palace and asks them what a ‘knocking shop’ is. The sight of Elizabeth driving like a rally driver toward the end of the film with a remark about learning to drive on the family’s Scottish estate is also an unexpected moment of humour. Such wide-eyed innocence is what creates the film’s best moments. Rupert Everett also gives a very realistic portrayal of the King who was much loved by his subjects even though he had a stutter and was always nervous to talk in public.