Royal Wedding (1951)

royalwedding1The Wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip was a once in a lifetime experience. They’re still together to this day and yet when they got married she was not even queen yet. It’s hard to believe. It’s only fitting that a momentous occasion like that would get a film, and Stanley Donen‘s musical is a bouncy little dance fest that uses the wedding as its backdrop, hence the title.

The story follows the brother-sister dance team extraordinaire of Tom (Fred Astaire) and Ellen Bowden (Jane Powell), who after a smashing opening weekend of their show Every Night on Sunday, get a call to perform in London in the wake of the big occasion. So they get aboard the first ocean liner available and head abroad. Tom is more interested in work than love, and Ellen leaves behind a string of beaus behind, but none of them meant much to her. She finds a budding romance with Lord Brindale (Peter Lawford), and it looks like it might actually amount to something. Quite by chance, Tom finds out a woman he meets on the street happens to be part of their production, the dancer Anne Ashmond (none other than Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah). So of course, we have these two budding romances forming as the show gets into high gear and siblings must balance their obligations with love. It’s not always easy or without heartache, but it ends up just as glorious as the Royal Wedding.

Fred Astaire is an ageless wonder looking as spry as he ever did, and his individual numbers are probably the film’s best. His coat rack dance in the gym seemingly pays homage to his friend Gene Kelly and shows his brilliance at breathing life and vitality into inanimate objects. They become his partners in the dance. His inspiration for expression.

royalwedding2Furthermore, his dance on the ceiling looks as remarkable now and feels just as magical as it probably was back then. It’s a marvel because we look for any sign of a trick, but everything looks so fluid. Thus, it’s so easy to quickly forget the technical aspect and simply be blown away by the inventiveness of Astaire.

Jane Powell is a wonderfully bright young beauty and a lovely co-star for Astaire in both song and dance. It was refreshing not to have them playing romantic leads opposite one another and the brother-sister dynamic fittingly mirrored Astaire’s own longtime real-life partnership with his sister Adele. All in all, it’s a light and elegant bit of fun that’s an exuberant delight. It does what it sets out to do and that’s about all you can ask for.

3.5/5 Stars

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