Writing about the screen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, for two reasons. First, I’m the rube who watches films and television so you don’t have to. And, frankly, I can do without the sinking feeling that sets in before seeing another Michael Bay film, or the “anticipointment” after watching any film that doesn’t meet expectations.
That said, there are worse experiences in jobs of greater consequence. And very occasionally, a film jumps out of the box, upending your prejudices.
A Royal Night Out (M, Paramount, 97min, $39.99) is one of those films. I concede I approached this British film about the VE Day escapades in London of princesses Elizabeth and Margaret with trepidation, dreading a fey dramatisation of an event about which precious little is known.
Yet it is an utter delight. A Royal Night Out won’t win any awards or open your mind to any greater truth, but it is jolly good fun. After all, the most consequential narrative question in the whole piffle is whether the future Queen kissed a boy.
That’s not such a bad thing, though, because the film’s energy and fine sense of period detail (the crowd scenes are particularly well-handled on a minor budget) push it along without needing to slow down in search of gravitas.
Canadian actress Sarah Gadon and Britain’s Bel Powley deserve much of the credit.
Gadon is a glorious Elizabeth, perhaps a little sharper and more vulnerable than the real thing but charismatic within a cast that has its big stars, including Rupert Everett as a dandy George VI and Emily Watson as the Queen Mother. And Powley, as Margaret (playing a little older than the then 14-yearold), is a scene stealer.
These kinds of Brit period pieces are meant to be directed by a certain kind of stodgy Pom. Julian Jarrold’s resume has Brideshead Revisited (the 2008 film) and the telemovie Great Expectations in it, but also Kinky Boots, the dark and very good telemovie Red Riding and a few episodes of the TV series Cracker, so he can mix it up.
And he hits the right tones here, being respectful yet irreverent, light yet serious, soapy and sincere. It is a wonderful little film.
Another downside of this job is knowing too much about a show before seeing it. Film and TV media is now so pervasive, discovering something is rare.
I wish I had discovered the HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (MA15+, HBO, 258min, $39.95), particularly its conclusion. It created a storm when it was aired in the US, months before airing here on Foxtel.
If you haven’t heard about this denouement to a seven-year murder investigation, this is a stunning, albeit very graphic, series that raises many questions about the documentary form.
Anyway, imagine if the US radio series Serial had a conclusion. This is it.