THE young Princess Elizabeth finds herself in louche company in Peter Bradshaw’s comedy thriller, set on VE Night, when the teenage princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, were allowed to join the celebrating crowds in central London.
Night Of Triumph
Bradshaw’s Elizabeth is a 19-year-old torn between her sense of duty and her longing to have some fun. Newly engaged to the disappointingly unromantic Philip, she is a half-unwilling participant in her sister’s wheeze of going out incognito, chaperoned by a couple of Guards officers.
In another part of the capital, a more dubious figure is preparing to join the VE night revelry. Mr Ware, a man of violent and frequently illegal impulses, has no great opinion of the Royal Family, which is not to say that if he ran into a stray princess he wouldn’t find a way to turn the meeting to his advantage.
After losing Margaret and the Guardsmen in the drunken crowd, Elizabeth takes refuge in the Ritz. But on this night of misrule they’ve let all sorts in, and soon she is making her way, escorted by the sinister Mr Ware, to a decidedly less salubrious establishment in Soho.
Here she spots a couple of familiar faces — the MP Tom Driberg and the actor Noël Coward, evidently on the hunt for congenial company. Sportingly, they keep the secret of Elizabeth’s identity. And with Mr Ware’s Luger pressed to her ribs, she is unable to plead for their assistance.
Bradshaw admirably conjures up VE Night’s mood of exultation, simmering with alcohol, lust and resentment. He has a sharp eye for the grimy textures and chirpy argot of wartime life, and a gift for punctuating his narrative with tiny vignettes of shocking pathos.
The early chapters, in which the stroppy minx Margaret appears, have a spiteful energy that flags a little once she leaves the narrative. But Mr Ware is a model of finely drawn nastiness, and Bradshaw’s light touch and attention to detail make his thriller a pleasant diversion for a cold February night. «