On the eve of VE Day, 1945, a ditzy Princess Margaret (Bel Powley) is breathlessly reading from a gossip mag to her sister Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). Gregory Peck, she swoons, has been spotted at a swank West End nightclub. This early, quite proper reference is to William Wyler’s sublime Roman Holiday (1953), in which a Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) changes into mufti for a boozy night in Rome and meets up with a handsome American journo (Peck). Julian Jarrold’s film is nowhere near as good as Wyler’s classic, but it is enjoyable, in a childish way, and soft-centred enough to make you forget about what you have to pay for a choc-top these days. As a Republican who is dismayed by the grovelling notion that a member of the family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha should be our unelected head of state, I went along with my finger on the ‘exterminate’ button. I’d had it up to here with the excesses of Anzac Day and the bed-wetting cluckiness over Kate’s new kid, so I was pleasantly surprised – and relieved – by what is basically the cinematic equivalent of tea and scones.
It’s the sort of project that costume and makeup people, set designers and location scouts drool over and, to be honest, it is they who are responsible for making things interesting. Margaret, just a girl at the time, is presented as a complete air-head, the Kray-type brothel owner has a heart of gold but I couldn’t figure out why, in a city of drunken servicemen, the military police were only concerned with finding Jack (Jack Reynor), the Peck character who hit it off with Liz. Rupert Everett is fabulous as old King George VI and Gadon puts in a winning performance as the goody-two-shoes older sister who stays sober and yes, comes to truly love the common people… aren’t we lucky? She even looks a bit like the young Helen Mirren, but there is no Bocca della Verità scene to seal the deal.