It takes a brave man to play King George VI on screen – after all, the last actor to do so walked away with a wave of critical acclaim and an Oscar. So, naturally Rupert Everett is a little touchy when I suggest he and his friend Colin Firth (whom he found fame with in 1984 breakout hit Another Country) might have discussed the fact they’ve both played the stuttering monarch.
“I just thought typical my luck,” he quips. “Colin Firth – he plays it as a lead and gets the Oscar and I will probably go straight into rehab after the opening.”
Everett’s turn as King George comes in A Royal Night Out (released in UK cinemas today) opposite Emily Watson as Queen Elizabeth – but it’s the wartime monarch’s daughters whom the narrative focuses on.
The new film sees Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret (played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon and rising star Bel Powley) join a wild party on the streets of London. The occasion is VE Day (8th May 1945) and the princesses’ fictional outing on the jubilant streets of the capital is inspired by real-life events which saw them slip out of Buckingham Palace to go incognito and watch their parents on the balcony from the Mall below.
The Queen has since described it as “one of the most memorable nights of my life”, but Everett isn’t sure she’d enjoy his new film.
“It’s very difficult when you see a film and the story’s meant to be about yourself – that’s not a nice feeling at the best of times. I think you’d be bound to think this wasn’t how it was. Ours is a fantasy around a factual moment so I think she probably might easily be quite horrified in one sense, but in another sense, if she was to look on the bright side, I’m sure the essence of it reflects something very nice about her which is people’s fantasies about the Royal Family. The mechanism of these two girls on the verge of becoming adults in a world that has just been broken by war and is about to change forever is a very true one.
“Obviously it’s so difficult – if you have to see anything about yourself you probably hate it, but in another sense, in a very integral way, there’s something very positive about it from the Queen’s point of view.”
But while the royal siblings slipped out unnoticed, in our modern world of celebrity news and social media, the notion of Princes William and Harry heading out incognito onto packed streets is almost laughable. “I think they would go out in the crowd,” says Everett. “It’s what the crowd might do to them. They’d probably be torn apart, that’s the thing. They’d probably be grabbed and torn to shreds by the crowd wanting to get a piece.
“The media attention in general has completely changed compared to that period where probably no one saw that much of the Queen – they did know what she looked like but only from still photographs or going to the cinema and seeing news reels. The world’s completely changed.”
What does Everett make of the explosion of social media in the past decade, compared to celebrity culture during his first taste of stardom in the 1980s?
“Social media and Twitter is nauseating to me. It’s not part of my world. I feel that people who express themselves on Twitter – endless opinion. I think opinion is very boring after a bit and everyone’s opinion is so violent and aggressive.
“Twitter’s just shown how divided everyone is – everyone’s spitting with fury and it’s quite alarming. It reveals a side of us that is really unfortunate at the moment which is we’re so envious and angry with each other and angry with anyone. I think it’s hideous.”
If like, Rupert, you prefer a social media-free age, catch A Royal Night Out in cinemas now. Watch the trailer below: