Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions.
Red, White and Royal Blue is a charming romance with compelling characters and lots to love. Unfortunately, not everything comes together in a cohesive way. What does work works incredibly well. What doesn’t leaves a disappointing aftertaste. At its core, this is a love story about two people coming of age. At its most misguided, the movie veers into societal commentary that leaves much to be desired. On balance, it is a sweet, romantic journey worth taking.
It makes sense to start with the parts of this story that do work. Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez) and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) are nothing less than magnetic as a couple. Beginning with Alex, there’s an incredible emotional depth to this character, who feels as if he’s on the cusp of a new beginning. It’s clear that he’s committed to becoming the best version of himself to better his family and his country. His ability to self-reflect in real-time is heartwarmingly earnest. For all of his flaws, the fact that he tries to do better makes him easy to love.
Henry may be a less relatable character, but he’s no less charming. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have quite the resonance as Alex. Though his struggles are no less real, it’s difficult to totally invest in this character from such a wildly privileged background. This character is absolutely a fan-fictionalized version of a European royal. While there have been closeted and not-so-closeted members of the LGBTQ+ community that have always existed among royalty, it’s hard to imagine a character like Henry ever existing as he’s portrayed here.
The parts of Red, White and Royal Blue that don’t work are largely issues with the source material. This West Wing/Prince William fanfiction is so clearly written from an American perspective. There are plenty of missed opportunities to interrogate the concept of the British Royal family and how they have directly contributed to homophobic ideals that continue to run rampant throughout the western world. Ultimately, this is a gross misinterpretation of how the real people in these real systems perceive themselves.
While it is nice to see such a story avoid becoming trauma porn, there are parts of the story that read as laughably inauthentic. Fundamentally, this story misses the opportunity to interrogate exactly how this institution sees itself. There is simply no mechanism for such an institution to engage in the type of reflection that is demonstrated here. There is also no room to acknowledge the sheer breadth of humanity that exists within this machine.
Finally, one of the surprising highlights of this story is Uma Thurman as President Claremont. This character deserves a movie all of her own. This is an example of the best way to portray a fictional President. She perfectly combines an incredible intellect with deep compassion with a side of witty banter. Though she may not have a lot of screentime, she truly is the best example of a fictional politician. It’s easy to see why she has the support she does.
Red, White, and Royal Blue is ultimately a mixed bag. There’s much to love; however, there’s much to be desired. There were plenty of opportunities to improve on the source material and have an honest discussion about modern power dynamics set against the backdrop of a young adult romance. An American perspective is perhaps what ultimately holds this story back.
Red, White and Royal Blue is available to stream on Prime Video.