In 1975, Richard Lester followed up his smashing Three Musketeers films with Royal Flash, casting the ever-insolent Malcolm McDowell as a globetrotting rake of an English officer named Harry Flashman. Flashman, the Victorian antihero of a series of satirical historical novels by George MacDonald Fraser, is a cowardly womanizer playboy who likes nothing more (or less) than a good time, and won’t let patriotic imperatives get in the way of his pleasures.
The puckish Lester begins the film with a parody of Patton, placing the condescending Flashman in front of a giant Union Jack as the “hero” advises an assembly of schoolboys to uphold British honor and take a daily cold shower. From then on, it’s a romp across Europe from gambling hall to whorehouse to royal court, as Flashman stays one step ahead of the law, ever indignant when called out on his bad behavior.
Flashman may be a scoundrel and a coward, but he’s not the villain of the piece. That would be Oliver Reed’s coolly cruel Otto von Bismarck, methodically planning the horrific particulars of the coming 20th century. Reed is part of a splendid supporting cast led by debonair Alan Bates and seductive Florinda Bolkan (as Lola Montez), and featuring very funny cameos by the likes of Alistair Sim, Britt Ekland and a young Bob Hoskins.
This very funny film looks terrific on the new Blu-ray from limited edition imprint Twilight Time (available only online through Screen Archives Entertainment), with special features ported over from the 2007 Fox DVD and a new isolated musical score track.
In 1975, the producers planned this as the first in a series of Flashman films; disappointing box office nixed that. Royal Flash, at least, deserves a happier fate in HD.