Rom-coms have been a staple in the Kitson household for as long as I can remember. There was nothing like a Saturday with my mother and sisters, with a big bowl of popcorn and a long list of movies where the stars fall in love in some of the silliest situations ever. They weren’t always good, but there was something magical and unique about each one. But growing up, all these films had one thing in common, they featured heterosexual couples as the main protagonist. While these Hallmark movies left me with good feeling endorphins, the lack of representation of what a relationship looks like for individuals like me was obvious. Finally, a film fills that void, with Red, White & Royal Blue releasing on Prime Video this weekend.
Based on a book from Casey McQuiston, Red, White, & Royal Blue explores the relationship that blossoms between enemies turned friends Alex and Henry. The novel and film explore the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of true love, as these two navigate what it means to be in a homosexual relationship amidst the global politics between The United States and The United Kingdom.
Red, White & Royal Blue is adapted by Matthew Lopez, who directed the film and wrote the screenplay along with Ted Malawer. Bringing to life Alex and Henry are Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine respectively, joined by Uma Thurman, Stephen Fry, and Sarah Shahi. So should you check this one out when it drops on Prime Video this weekend? From this reviewer, the answer is yes you absolutely should.
[Warning: Spoilers and impressions from Red, White & Royal Blue film and novel are below!]
International incidents and forced friendships
Life is difficult enough when you’re in college, but it’s even more difficult when your mother is the President of the United States. There’s a ton of pressure on Alex Claremont-Diaz’s (Perez) shoulders, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. Alex is incredibly ambitious and has big dreams of politics for himself, beginning with helping his mother with your current campaign for re-election. However, his rivalry with His Royal Highness Henry (Galitzine) might just put a damper on those dreams for both him and his mother (Thurman).
As the film opens, we find Alex and Nora (Rachel Hilson), the Vice President’s granddaughter, on their way to Prince Philip’s (Thomas Flynn) wedding. What should be a joyful and fun event for everyone involved turns sour, after the involvement of alcohol and old rivalries and into play. For reasons unknown at the start of the film, Alex despises HRH Henry, however, Henry doesn’t think too highly of Alex either. That being said, as Alex becomes intoxicated with one too many drinks, he begins taunting Henry.
What starts off as nothing more than childish behavior escalates quickly, resulting in the destruction of a cake that cost more than my Master’s degree. This international incident puts tons of stress on the relations between these two countries, so much so that damage control is not suggested by required. Alex is informed by the President and Chief of Staff Zahra (Sarah Shahi) that to save the relationship and possibly the election, he has to act like he’s best friends with the royal prince.
Easier said than done for both parties, who would rather be anywhere else than forced to be close to one another. However, over time the fake friendship develops into something more, something Alex never saw coming.
First loves and the gay agenda in Red, White & Royal Blue
The enemies-to-lovers aspect of their relationship doesn’t happen overnight, instead, it’s a slow burn for months. These two go from planned public appearances to texting over the phone, to the faithful party on New Year’s Eve. The night that everything changes for these two men, and the trajectory of the entire story. Those who have read the book know exactly what happens at this life-changing party and the moment is just as magical on the silver screen as it was in the book. There was an audible gasp and “Aw” from the crowd during this scene, even giving this reviewer goosebumps.
From that point on, the story becomes a typical romantic comedy, with an emphasis on romance. There are both hilarious moments that had me and others around me in tears from laughing so hard, to heartfelt parts that made me cry from heartbreak and happiness.
Having just read the novel recently, I had the story fresh in my mind and knew exactly what to expect most of the time. That being said, there were still moments that elicited responses from me, as what should have been just a silly rom-com ended up being a beautiful film that made me feel like I and my community has finally been seen.
It’s crazy to think that a film about the president’s son and the spare prince falling in love could make me feel this way. And yet here we are. Many of the situations that these two go through, while greatly exaggerated due to the elevated status of these characters, are ones that I myself, and others also in the LGBTQ+ community have gone through. The reality of coming out to our parents, the stress and fear of how the public will react to seeing two men together, even the challenging family members who just can’t or refuse to understand and accept a same-sex relationship in their family tree.
For that reason alone, this film has elevated itself to the top of my all-time favorite romantic comedies ever. I recognize that not everyone in my position might feel that way, and that’s okay. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Red, White & Royal Blue has others feeling similarly, at least I hope so. Having films like this, or last year’s Bros is important for getting greater representation for those in the LGBTQ+ community.
The good and bad of Red, White & Royal Blue
There is so much I loved about this film, beginning with the writing. Matthew Lopez and Ted Malawer already had a strong story in which they began their screenplay, with McQuiston’s novel being a strong love story. That being said, this writing duo did a wonderful job adapting the source material. They captured the excitement and heartbreak perfectly, bringing me the exact same emotions I felt as I read the book.
On top of that, they wrote the characters of Alex and Henry perfectly. It felt like these two individuals were ripped straight off the place and placed onto the screen. That definitely harkens back to the fantastic writing from Lopez and Malawer, but that also is a testament to how perfectly cast Alex and Henry are.
Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine were both incredibly charming, definitely sexy and snarky, and unbelievably real as these two men figuring out their place in the world. I cannot stress enough how well these two did on screen as our main protagonists. There are moments in Red, White & Royal Blue that took my breath away, due to the realism these two actors brought to this film. I was initially worried as I read the novel with Galitzine’s casting, but he sold me in every scene he was in. The emotional heaviness that he brought to Henry and the impossible role he has within the royal family was stellar in every way.
Sarah Shahi was also exceptional as Zahra, whose performance is spot-on to her novel counterpart. While she was just relegated to a side character, the story wouldn’t have been the same without her and Shahi gave it her all as the wise-cracking, and possibly perpetually stressed and angry, Zahra.
With all that was great with Red, White & Royal Blue, there were also some narrative changes made for the sake of time and story. The film breezes through the first third of the book, pushing the story quickly to the New Year’s Eve party, which is understandable because that is the reason that most people are probably watching the movie. That means that some of the narratives from the earlier part of the novel are dropped or shortened to fast-track the story to the main event. That isn’t to say that those early integral moments in the development of Alex and Henry aren’t there, they are, but there are definitely some cuts to fit the allotted time and simplify the story.
Characters are cut too, such as June, Alex’s sister, and his step-father. In the film, he’s an only child and not a product of divorce, which is a vast change from the source material. Initially, it felt like a loss to not have June, who’s an integral part of the novel, but for the film, it works perfectly fine without her.
They also replaced the Queen with a King, which again felt like an odd move from an outward perspective, but when you learn that Stephen Fry is in the role, it makes sense to have a distinguished gay actor/comedian in a film like this.
Red, White & Royal Blue is a highly recommended rom-com
I can recognize that this film isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. It’s a film that certain what is a sensitive topic for many. However, the impact that this film will have on the landscape of representation of the LGBTQ+ is one of the reasons I love this film the most and why it feels like a royally important addition to the rom-com genre.
Overall, this film meant a lot to me, flaws and all. At times, it felt like the movie surpassed the novel, which is a shock for me to even admit, but it felt true. It added and evolved the narrative of two gay individuals finding themselves in a way that felt normal and representative of so many who are watching it.
There are obviously problems and things I would have liked to see from the book into the film, but when you separate Red, White & Royal Blue from the source material, it’s a great movie with even greater implications for a community that has fought to be seen. So for that alone, I hope you watch this film and I hope it touches your heart as it has mine.
My rating for this film
Red, White & Royal Blue is streaming Friday on Prime Video. Will you be watching it? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.