Royal Flash (1975)

Royal Flash (1975), directed by Richard Lester.

The second of twelve Flashman novels, this is the only one filmed so far. George MacDonald Fraser wrote the screenplay from his own book and makes it much sillier than the novel. If he and director Lester were trying to recapture the magic of their The Three Musketeers (1973) films, this is pretty weak tea by comparison. They might have been using the comical excesses of Gene Kelly's The Three Musketeers (1948) as a model.

Still, it has Malcolm McDowell, Alan Bates and Oliver Reed, all doing those things they did so well.

Harry Flashman is a cowardly rogue who mistakenly becomes a national hero. I would not call him "lovable", but he has the most fascinating ability to meet every notable character and witness every important event of the 19th century. He has remarkable success with women, but claims his only talents are a gift for languages and skill as a horseman. He seems rather good at sword-fighting when forced to do it.

In this installment Flashman is dragooned into impersonating royalty, anticipating The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). The historical characters are Otto von Bismark and adventuress Lola Montez (born Lizzie Gilbert, County Sligo, Ireland) who had her own film in Lola Mont├Ęs (1955)).

I like Britt Ekland (The Wicker Man (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)) better here than elsewhere. As the icy Duchess she is, as Flashman puts it in the novel: "all chaste purity to look at, maidenly beauty personified, and randy as a monkey" behind closed doors, which is always funny.

An early bit for Bob Hoskins.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. For the commentary track Nick Redman hosts Malcolm McDowell and we get many great stories about everyone involved.

We're told that Oliver Reed, who fancied himself a brawler, wanted to land some punches on former heavyweight champion Henry Cooper. The gentlemanly boxer dodged him for a few moments then lightly tapped him and laid him out. Strangely enough exactly the same thing happens to Reed's character Bismarck in the film and had been written in the book years earlier.

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