Moviedrome Redux: ‘Royal Flash’ (1975)

❉ We Are Cult revives the spirit of BBC2’s ‘Moviedrome’. This week, Malcolm McDowell buckles his swash as Harry Flashman.

One of Lester’s most asininely enjoyable pictures, the 1975 slapstick swashbuckler ‘Royal Flash’, is undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen.

I’ve long been a massive fan of the work of Richard Lester. ‘Petulia’, ‘Juggernaut’, ‘Robin and Marian’, ‘Superman II’, ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Four Musketeers’ are films I adore, and I’ll admit to having a huge soft spot for ‘Superman III’; it truly “got” what it meant to be a “comic book movie.” He was a subversive filmmaker who was always interested in mixing tones (especially comedy with action), and I love the chaotic, almost frenetic sense of mise-en-scene that his movies frequently exhibited. I’m eager to check out the films of his that I’ve missed; he was always someone you couldn’t truly pin down, and it’s no surprise that many modern directors, most notably Steven Soderbergh, hold Lester in such high regard. One of his most asininely enjoyable pictures, the 1975 slapstick swashbuckler ‘Royal Flash’, is undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen.


It’s wonderfully cheeky fun, super clownish at all times, very light and spastic, with a pricelessly funny lead performance from Malcom McDowell as Captain Harry Flashman, a sniveling and humorous Oliver Reed doing great supporting work, and as usual, Lester totally filled the cinematic frame with so much detail and action and energy that it’s literally impossible not to enjoy yourself on some level with this bit of lunacy.

It’s a most assuredly minor picture on his fascinating and eclectic filmography, but so wildly entertaining, and a further reminder that Lester was a director who was capable of balancing various qualities and ideas in his work. One minute, the film feels mildly amateurish, with weird sound work and sped up film processing and strange acting on the part of background extras, and then the next scene is one that’s gorgeously appointed, with terrific vistas and epic sweep and great use of light and composition (The magnificent Geoffrey Unsworth was the cinematographer).


McDowell plays a good-hearted yet bumbling officer serving in the British army who blunders his way from one situation to the next, always appearing to be the victor, despite his oafish manner and continual stroke of good luck. Alan Bates shows up for some hearty laughs, and the film is just one gag after another involving duplicity, impersonation, revenge, sexual mischief, and tons of terrifically staged sword fighting and general fisticuffs. There’s also a set-piece atop a bridge that appears to defy technical logic, especially given the era that this film was produced during. The Twilight Time Blu-ray is crisp and clean and offers a solid assortment of extras. A true pisser of the likes we never get anymore, Royal Flash is tons and tons of goofy, wink-wink fun, all wrapped up with excellent production values and orchestrated by a filmmaker who enjoyed keeping his audience off balance.

❉ Nick Clement’s latest venture, Podcasting Them Softly, is a weekly podcast discussing a film of the week, new and notable Blu-ray releases, new films in theatres, top five performances and collectibles. 

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  1. ‘Good-hearted yet bumbling’…erm, Flashman is supposed to be a near-complete bastard. He does hve occasional twinges of social conscience and decency, but he is most certainly not ‘good-hearted’. Did the makers even read MacDonald Fraser’s books…

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