After humiliating Otto von Bismark (Oliver Reed) in a boxing match and stealing his mistress, courtesan Lola Montez (Florinda Bolkan), decorated 19th-century soldier and famed scoundrel Captain Harry Flashman (Malcolm McDowell) is coerced into impersonating a European prince in a bid to stop him from interfering with Bismark’s plans for a unified Germany. But when Flashman learns the scheming Bismark plans to double-cross him, the roguish captain plots his escape back to England.
Originally the villain in the classic 1857 novel Tom Brown’s School Days, Flashman became the anti-hero in a dozen books by novelist George MacDonald Fraser throughout the 1970s. This 1975 period comedy takes its cue from the second novel, but is given a slapstick makeover from Richard Lester. The A Hard Day’s Night director’s manic direction cuts through the overblown plot at breakneck speed, while star Malcolm McDowall seems to be channelling the same anarchic characters he played in Lindsay Anderson’s If… and O Lucky Man and in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
The roll call of British thespians popping up throughout the 112-minutes is pretty impressive, but its Olivier Reed who gives a scenery chewing performance as the dastardly Bismark. Lester had hoped to follow the success of his two Musketeer movies, made the year before, with another comic dip into baroque waters. But while Royal Flash did garner some good reviews, it didn’t really catch the box-office alight.
The Odeon Entertainment Region 2 Blu-ray release is the first-time Royal Flash has been released on disc in the UK (however a DVD was released in the US in 2007). The extras include a commentary with Malcolm McDowell and film historian Nick, Inside Royal Flash featurette, Meet Harry Flashman