Universal Pictures invites you to the Royal Film Premiere of…

This week I found myself in the unusual position of being a competition winner. Well, that’s not quite true; last year I did win a Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer t-shirt and set of stickers as runner-up in a London Eye competition, but that’s not really on the same scale. This time I had scored a pair of tickets to the royal premiere of The Other Boleyn Girl at the Odeon Cinema in London’s Leicester Square. For the sake of posterity, and for those who are interested in what actually goes on for the average guest at a premiere, I thought I would write the experience up before my somewhat deficient memory cells jettison the whole thing in a few weeks time, as is the norm, to be replaced by some new moment of embarrassment I’ll no doubt create for myself and remember for evermore.

Mrs. Ark being otherwise engaged for the day, my brother and I took the train in to London (about an hour’s journey time) and headed straight over to Universal’s rather plush-looking offices in Oxford Street to pick up the tickets. Only getting as far as the reception desk on the first floor, we weren’t able to see if there were any Hollywood types lurking around, or even British movie types, but never mind. Having verified that I had actually got tickets (one brief phone call from a London number being all the confirmation I had had thus far), we set off to grab a pizza before the doors officially opened at 6.30pm. After said pizza, we headed through Chinatown towards Leicester Square, easily found thanks to the searchlights being projected outside the cinema up in to the evening sky. Incidentally, we walked past Stephen Merchant (of The Office and Extras fame) in the street, texting on his phone. I only say that because celebrity spotting is a rare occurrence for me, and the chance to name-drop even rarer.

In Leicester Square, crowd fences had been erected to stop vermin like you or me from getting anywhere near the entrance of the cinema, so we just wandered around for a bit, figuring out where the VIPs would be arriving. We knew Prince Charles and Camilla would be there, but I wasn’t sure which stars would turn out for the event. As it happened, all three stars of the film were present: Natalie Portman (Anne Boleyn), Scarlett Johansson (Mary Boleyn) and Eric Bana (King ‘enry VIII). Ms Johansson arrived first, swamped with cries from photographers and celeb-spotters alike. Hundreds of mobile phones were thrust in to the air to snap or film her (of which one was mine, I’m afraid) as she signed autographs for the people lucky enough to be at the front. It was an odd moment, and I couldn’t help feeling I had somehow lowered myself by becoming another amateur paparazzi. And what must it be like for her, knowing how she was being ogled and pried upon by so many fans and idle-onlookers alike?

Well, having had a reasonably close brush with fame and stardom (or rather, someone else’s fame and stardom), we decided to turn ourselves instantly in to the envy of the crowd and pull out our tickets to the big show. Once past the initial security people, we headed diagonally across the Square through the green bit towards the South East corner, where the stars were arriving. Pausing briefly to savour the moment, we then moved on to the red carpet itself. Sadly there was no explosion of flashbulbs to herald our arrival. In fact, the carpet wasn’t even red: it was a blue-turquoise colour, flanked either side rather nicely by medieval-style flaming torches. I strolled up the carpet toward the cinema entrance, noting both how awkward it felt to be the centre of attention like this while crowds of people on either side of the carpet looked on, and also how I clearly wasn’t the centre of attention because no-one wanted to look at two people who were clearly of no interest whatsoever. Another fantasy bubble popped.

Feeling ever so slightly rejected, I headed in to the cinema with my brother just behind, showing our tickets once again; we got scanned by more security personnel; walked past some random woman dressed up in fetish gear (had security stopped her from going in?); and went through in to the cinema itself, where we were shown to our seats. It was now about 6.45, half an hour before doors closed to guests. As we sat down, I noticed each seat had some freebies: a box of two expensive-looking chocolates, a bottle of water (how thoughtful) and a film programme. Nice. Up on the screen, the audience was being shown a live broadcast feed from outside as some interviewer stopped and talked to anyone remotely famous as they approached the doors. My brother noted how it made a pleasant change from the usual crap adverts at the local multiplex. I concurred.

So we sat and watched this for half an hour, looking around the cinema (which neither of us had been to since it was rennovated a few years back) and waiting for the show proper to begin. More people arrived, looking very smartly dressed – it was black tie, and many people had dressed as such, though I’m afraid as I don’t own a tux, it was just smart trousers and normal tie for me. All the celebrities slowly filtered in after giving interview after interview after interview to the press just outside. Now we were just waiting for Charles and Camilla, and we had to wait until 7.45 before their car finally turned up. Then they had to do the official line-up, as the producer of the film (in a dress that did nothing for her figure and left very little to the imagination) introduced the prince to all the studio executives who put up the finance (and presumably contributed very little else), and then the talent in front of and behind the camera. Scarlett Johansson shook Charles’ hand, but Natalie Portman won extra points by actually curtsying.

Finally, Charles and Camilla entered the auditorium, and the whole theatre was asked to “be upstanding” while the national anthem was played on the organ that had risen slowly out of the orchestra pit in front of the screen and stage, just as it would have done in ye olden days. Once the organist had finished his work, the royal couple took their seats at the front of the circle, while we riffraff in the stalls looked on, and then we sat down.

Then who should stroll out on to the stage but Michael Palin (presumably roped in a few minutes earlier) to greet the royal guests and introduce the director, Justin Chadwick, on to the stage. Chadwick then reeled off the names of the people who helped turn his film in to reality and welcomed all of them on to the stage (including the producer whose dress had brought plenty of sniggers from the row behind us). Portman and Johansson were last to appear, walking on arm in arm to loud applause.

Then finally, the curtains parted and the main event commenced. It was a decent enough costume drama, with plenty of passion and betrayal and lust and beautifully shot locations and stars. It started rather unpromisingly, but by the end you were, if not gripped, then reasonably stirred. The two female stars did very well. I think the script needed more work; the supporting characters mostly felt like cardboard cutouts, despite the best efforts of the cast. It was noticeably shot on Hi-Def and digitally projected, which although incredibly vivid, meant the film lacked a certain cinematic feel. But that’s just me nitpicking I think.

When the film finished, there was a convincing round of applause, and people started to get up and make their way to the aisles. However, the doors weren’t opened until Charles and Camilla were out of the building, so there was a bit of standing around for 10 minutes or so. Finally the fire exit doors were opened, and in complete contrast to our grand entrance, we were all herded out through the back exit in to a dark and rather dingy alley way on to Charing Cross Road.

From there, we hurtled back to Kings Cross as fast as we could, missing our train by a matter of seconds. So we were forced to wait for the next one, which was an hour later; I finally opened my front door about 1am. But it was worth it, just to see what the experience was like. Although could someone please tell Charles and Camilla not to keep everyone waiting quite so long next time…?

Published by Gavin Midgley

Freelance film journalist, blogger and geek.