CASTING "A Royal Night Out"
“How on earth does one find the cast to play Elizabeth and Margaret? That was the beginning of the process,” says Jarrold.
The challenge was to cast actors who could believably inhabit such well-known characters. It was a delicate balancing act that required the need for the actors to be able to exist in the heightened, fantasy environment of the film while remaining completely anchored in reality.
“With a film like this, it is important the psychology is accurate from the point of view of the filmmakers,” says Bernstein. “It’s our take on the story. We’re not looking to create an identikit look because the actors look the way they do and the princesses look the way they did. It’s about capturing the essence of Elizabeth and Margaret from our point of view, and being very respectful to the night and to the two princesses on that night.”
A ROYAL NIGHT OUT features three extraordinary rising stars: Sarah Gadon (Elizabeth), whose credits include Amma Asante’s festival hit Belle, David Cronenberg’s Cannes sensation Map To The Stars, global blockbuster The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and upcoming Dracula Untold and The Girl King; Jack Reynor (Jack), whose breakthrough role was in What Richard Did, and has since gone on to star in mega-franchise Transformers: Age Of Extinction and with Michael Fassbender in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth; and Bel Powley (Margaret), who is best known for children’s BBC series MI High, and Hollywood comedy The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, opposite Adam Sandler and Kirsten Wiig.
The role of Elizabeth in particular was a difficult one to cast. “It was very hard to find someone who could both inhabit the world of 1945 and could be a princess in 1945, and who looked to be around 19 or 20 years old,” says Jarrold. “Many people felt a bit too modern. But Sarah has some of that quality of the young Elizabeth’s sense of duty, steadfastness and wit,. She was also someone who was very keen on doing the doing the research and working very hard to get it right.”
In fact, the Toronto-born Gadon was so impressive in her audition Jarrold did not know she was Canadian until after he had offered her the role.
“I read a lot,” says Gadon of how she prepared for the part. “I read a great book by Kate Williams called Young Elizabeth: The Making Of Our Queen. The book talked a lot about Margaret and the family dynamics. I also learned about the iconography of the family. It is very important to the Royal Family that they cultivate a very specific look for themselves. Understanding and de-constructing that was helpful to me. A lot of what I was doing was breaking down the icon and playing the girl behind the princess.”
The film takes many of its visual and tonal cues from the screwball movies of the 1940s. Gadon spent many hours watching Brief Encounter, the films of Katharine Hepburn and of course Roman Holiday. To help place the young Elizabeth’s accent and the pitch of her voice, Gadon watched a few of the rare clips of the princess at that age, including one where she is addressing crowds in South Africa. Gadon also took etiquette lessons and worked with a historical consultant.
Bel Powley, who plays Margaret, is a well-known face in UK TV drama as well as an accomplished stage actress. “Bel has an unbelievable sense of timing and comedy,” says Jarrold. “She really knows how to work a scene and a script. Margaret is quite a tricky part and it’s easy to make her into a sort of caricature. But Bel turns Margaret into a very rounded person who is funny and witty but who also your heart goes out to.”
The now late Princess Margaret, whose younger years are not as well documented as Elizabeth’s, fascinated Powley. “I had to delve through the biographies of Elizabeth and find the bits where they talk about her sister, who they called ‘P2’, ” Powley explains.
The character of Jack is a stark contrast to the two princesses. We see him as someone authentic and working-class and very earthy and solid. “Jack Reynor inhabited very well that very male world of 1945,” says Jarrold. “At the same time he has a wit and a humour and a sense of vulnerability about him. At first we think Jack is somebody who is tough and hardened against the war. But we later find out he has these vulnerabilities that come out with Elizabeth. Jack could really pull that off.”
The three young actors were joined by the experienced and talented duo of Rupert Everett and Emily Watson as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
“Emily and Rupert got on incredibly well and performed a fantastic double act,” says Jarrold, who had worked with Emily on Appropriate Adult. “Emily inhabited the role effortlessly and she was very funny. She often plays very serious parts so it was wonderful to see her doing this. Rupert really anchored the role in terms of his gravitas and also the lovely affection he feels for his daughters.”
“It’s a film about a family,” says Everett. “It’s a film about a father’s concern for his daughter and also his concern about his own performance. We all know he had a stutter.”
Gadon, who had worked with Watson on Belle, was thrilled to work with her again. “Emily is such an incredible actress to watch because she tries so many different things in a scene,” says Gadon. “ She is fearless because she’s not afraid to say, ‘no, I want another take, let’s do it this way, I want to try this’. It’s always really refreshing to see that as a younger actor, because sometimes you get nervous in the face of a film schedule and a shot list. You wonder, ‘can I ask for this extra time?’ Emily commands her space in a beautiful but elegant way.”