Royal Wedding (1951)
Director: Stanley Donen
Cast: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford
Synopsis: American sibling song-and-dance team Tom and Ellen Bowen are in London in 1947, when all of England is in a tizzy over the impending nuptials of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
Royal Wedding, which takes place during the lead up to Queen Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, is set in a largely fogbound London which is typical of Hollywood’s idea of how London should look. Bobbies and — bizarrely — fire hydrants are everywhere you look, and everyone talks with a ‘Cor Blimey’ accent — apart from Keenan Wynn who talks with an American’ idea of an upper class English accent. There’s something quaint — and a little condescending — about it all, and it sort of detracts from the glamour you normally associate with a Fred Astaire movie, which is perhaps why Royal Wedding doesn’t rank as highly as other movies in Fred Astaire’s catalogue.
He plays Tom Bowen, one half of a successful song-and-dance act with his sister, Ellen (Jane Powell). Astaire was 52 when Royal Wedding was released, while Jane Powell was just 22, which makes their being cast as siblings a little improbable, to say the least, and there’s something not quite right about a brother and sister sharing semi-romantic musical numbers the way these two do. Fortunately, both enjoy romantic liaisons with a couple of natives during their time in London, where they’re putting on a show. Ellen hooks up with wealthy playboy Lord Peter Lawford, while Astaire dallies
with Sarah Churchill, the daughter of Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, no less. We can only assume that she was a piece of novelty casting as she shows only a meagre acting talent and looks too old to be an up-and-coming young dancer. Keenan Wynn has a curious dual role as brothers who, we can only assume, were re-united at some point after being separated at birth, as one is a ‘toodle-pip’ type English gent and the other is a brash New Yorker.
The story, by Alan Jay Lerner, is the usual wafer-thin nonsense, a mere framework on which to place the musical numbers which are the real reason for the movie to be made. Astaire is as professional as ever, exuding a smooth charm whenever he starts dancing, whether it’s with Ms Powell — who does ok opposite him, but is nothing spectacular — or a clothes stand. The stand-out sequence is the one in which Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of his hotel room.
Royal Wedding is serviceable enough entertainment. It’s not vintage Astaire by a long way, but it’s delivered with care and professionalism and doesn’t short change its audience.
(Reviewed 12th August 2013)