Royal Flash (film)

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Royal Flash
Directed byRichard Lester
Written byGeorge MacDonald Fraser
Based onthe novel by George MacDonald Fraser
Produced byDennis O'Dell
David V. Picker
StarringMalcolm McDowell
Oliver Reed
Alan Bates
Florinda Bolkan
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • October 1975 (1975-10)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Royal Flash is a 1975 film based on the second Flashman novel (of the same name, 1970) by George MacDonald Fraser. It stars Malcolm McDowell as Flashman. Additionally, Oliver Reed appeared in the role of Otto von Bismarck, Alan Bates as Rudi von Sternberg, and Florinda Bolkan played Lola Montez. Fraser wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by Richard Lester.

Though it received good reviews for its performances and action scenes, Royal Flash had only a limited release in cinemas.

Plot summary[edit]

The film begins with Flashman making a patriotic speech to the boys of Rugby School framed by a giant Union Flag, in a scene which appears to be a parody of the opening sequence in the 1970 film Patton. There is a brief flashback to the events of the original Flashman, with the head of the Rugby School (Michael Hordern) recounting Flashman's exploits in Afghanistan.

The film then follows the plot of the book, which itself largely derives from The Prisoner of Zenda. Flashman is forced by Otto von Bismarck to impersonate a Danish prince, who is about to marry a German princess (Britt Ekland). Bismarck exacts this retribution partly in revenge for his humiliation at the hands of Flashman in London; Flashman stole Bismarck's mistress Lola Montez, then manoeuvred him into boxing against a professional boxer, John Gully (played by Henry Cooper), at a house party. Bismarck does not wish the Princess to marry a Dane, since this may tilt the balance on the Schleswig-Holstein Question and interfere with his plans for a united Germany.[2]



Flashman, the first novel of The Flashman Papers series, had been published in 1968 and attracted the interest of film producers. At one stage Richard Lester was to direct, but the necessary financing could not be secured. However, Lester enjoyed the novel and then hired George MacDonald Fraser to adapt The Three Musketeers for two successful films in the early 1970s. This enabled Lester to obtain finance for a Flashman film.

Royal Flash was the second Flashman novel, and had been published in 1970. The New York Times said "Mr MacDonald Fraser has considerable narrative skill... most ingeniously plotted and often hilariously funny."[3]

Lester said he did not want to film the first novel as "after putting so much work into it originally, I felt that I'd already made the film, even though it had never reached the shooting stage. It was dead."[4] Diabolique argued the second novel was chosen for filming as opposed to the first because it would be less expensive, and the basic storyline had been successfully used before.[5]

The film was one of the first produced by executive David Picker following his resignation from being head of United Artists in 1973.[6]

In 1969 John Alderton had been cast as Flashman but David Picker wanted a better known actor in the lead. Malcolm McDowell was cast.[7]

Lester did not want the film to look too close to the Musketeers movies so he used a new production designer and cinematographer. Just prior to filming, Picker and United Artists withdrew finance, but Twentieth Century Fox - who had distributed the Musketeers films - stepped in instead.[8]

The film was shot partly on location in Bavaria.[9] Lester said the film "was hell to make, not because of the actors - I liked the cast very much - but let's say I was less happy with the crew. I think Germany was a difficult place to film in."[10]

It introduced actors Bob Peck, and Christopher Cazenove.

The film was cut from 118 minutes to 102 minutes prior to release. Among the scenes lost were flashbacks to Flashman's life at school, and the entire role of Roy Kinnear.[11]


The Observer said the film "leaves one breathless not so much with enchantment as with boredom".[12] The Wall Street Journal said it was "disappointing".[13]

Lester said the film was "generally ignored and considered to be a substandard version of The Three Musketeers. It was perhaps a poor choice of mine to pursue because it was a period film, a comic romp with some serious overtones and a lot of swordplay and it did come after Musketeers which was a well loved piece of subject matter."[14]

Lester also felt "that equivocal anti hero wasn't easy to take. They wanted a real hero, a hero that was a bounder as well as a hero. And Malcolm McDowell was absolutely 100% bounder - the sleaze was coming through to the film."[15]

Diabolique magazine argued the film suffered from miscasting in key roles, lack of voice over and for perhaps not being the best introduction to Harry Flashman for cinema audiences.[5]

Despite the film's disappointing reception, Lester said it was one of the few films he made that he liked watching again.[14]

Home media[edit]

A UK DVD and Blu-ray was released on 20 May 2013 by Odeon Entertainment.[16] Twilight Time released the film on a limited edition Blu-ray disc in 2013.


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
  2. ^ "ON THE SET OF "ROYAL FLASH"". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 26 February 1975. p. 27. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  3. ^ "Royal Flash" by Ricard Boston. New York Times 18 Oct 1970: BR3.
  4. ^ Yule, Andrew (1994). The Man Who "Framed" the Beatles: A Biography of Richard Lester. New York: D.I. Fine. p. 245. ISBN 978-1-55611-390-1.
  5. ^ a b Vagg, Stephen (18 May 2020). "Trying to Make a Case for Royal Flash". Diabolique.
  6. ^ "Warner's to Distribute Films of David Picker" Los Angeles Times 21 Nov 1974: h23.
  7. ^ "All the Actors in Tony Crawley's Casting Calls".
  8. ^ Yule p 247
  9. ^ "Movie fan's guide: Photogenic Bavaria" Jim; Higgins, Shirley. Chicago Tribune 12 Oct 1975: c11.
  10. ^ Yule p 249
  11. ^ Sinyard, Neil (1985). The films of Richard Lester. Croom Helm. p. 112.
  12. ^ "Cut-price Errol Flynn" Milne, Tom. The Observer 13 July 1975: 21.
  13. ^ "Victorian England Is Skewered Again" by Joy Gould Boyum. Wall Street Journal 6 Oct 1975: 12.
  14. ^ a b Soderbergh, Steven; Lester, Richard (1999). Getting away with it : or, The further adventures of the luckiest bastard you ever saw. Faber and Faber. p. 202.
  15. ^ Soderbergh, Steven; Lester, Richard (1999). Getting away with it : or, The further adventures of the luckiest bastard you ever saw. Faber and Faber. p. 116.
  16. ^ "Royal Flash". 20 May 2013 – via Amazon.

External links[edit]