A quick look at Julian Jarrold’s directing credits reveals a clear pattern: He has a knack for the past—from looking into Jane Austen’s love life in the feature film “Becoming Jane,” to poignantly exposing Tippi Hedren’s struggle on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” during the HBO special “The Girl.”
His latest drama, “A Royal Night Out,” follows Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) as they leave Buckingham Palace on the night of VE Day, 1945, to celebrate with the rest of England—incognito. And after the vivacious Margaret ventures off to party all over London, Elizabeth must enlist the help of an AWOL soldier, Jack (Jack Reynor), to find her.
Making its North American premiere on Saturday at the Hamptons International Film Festival, the film written by Trevor De Silva and Kevin Hood captures the royal family like it’s never been seen: through the lens of adventure, booze and romance, under Mr. Jarrold’s watchful eye.
The Press: What drew you to this project?
Julian Jarrold: The true story of the two princesses leaving the palace and mixing with the teeming crowds incognito on VE night seemed too good to be true. It’s a little-known story and merits barely a footnote in most biographies, and yet it seemed an exciting and amusing premise for a film. The queen’s cousin, Margaret Rhodes, described it as a “Cinderella story in reverse” and the idea of following our would-be monarch on her night of freedom was too good to ignore. It also allowed the possibility of presenting a period film that was fun, witty and not the usual earnest affair.
What is your process of preparing to create the past?
Jarrold: Period films allow one to delve into the past and, hopefully, unearth the characters’ attitudes and habits that may seem quite alien today, and yet offer a mirror on our own values and predicaments. Part of the fun of directing a period film is to take the audience on a journey into those worlds and get them to connect with the characters and dilemmas of the past.
Research is important, and we paid special attention to the palace rituals and the details of what happened on that special night. But because it’s a film with comedy—and some screwball comedy at that—the research provides a bedrock for our wilder imaginings. So research into the characters of the king, queen mother, Elizabeth, Margaret and Jack, and the forces changing society in 1945, gave us the foundation for our journey through the night.
What did the research include? Did you contact any members of the royal family?
Jarrold: Lots of biographies were read, and the firsthand account by Margaret Rhodes was particularly helpful. We met with various historical and etiquette advisors and, of course, took the “champagne” tour around Buckingham Palace. The queen, unfortunately, was not available for interview.
But this is not a documentary. It is, hopefully, a film that captures the spirit, optimism and magic of that night.
The film is a lot of fun to watch. How was the energy on set?
Jarrold: The energy on set was vital, as many of the scenes required a screwball energy and pace. I was fortunate in Sarah, Bel and Jack who had stamina to spare—even at 4 in the morning when the crew began to flag.
Were any real-life locations used in filming?
Jarrold: We filmed in many of the real locations, which help not only the actors but also cinematography and design in re-creating the atmosphere of the night.
We shot outside the gates of Buckingham Palace coincidentally on the anniversary of VE night itself. We had 200 extras singing and shouting, arc lights swinging across the walls and a large crew who worked though the night, just under the queen’s private apartments. We never noticed the curtains twitch, but I wondered if Her Majesty took a sneaky peek at us as we re-created the moment from the past when she is outside the palace gates, unnoticed in the crowd, cheering on her mother and father on the balcony.
Any word on how the film has been received by the royal family?
Jarrold: One of the fascinating aspects about The Sovereign is that she is required to be impartial. She must hide her true feelings and opinions, however much she’d like to speak out. Some may claim to speak for her, but they are usually pushing their own agenda, currying favor or just pretending to know her mind.
So, alas, we don’t know what she thinks of “A Royal Night Out”—but I’d like to think it might raise a hint of a smile if she ever watches the DVD in the privacy of her apartments.
Harry, I’m sure, would like it!
“A Royal Night” will make its North American premiere on Saturday, October 10, at 7:15 p.m. at Regal East Hampton Cinema. An additional screening will be held on Sunday, October 11, at 6 p.m. at UA Southampton. Tickets are $28. For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.
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