“History, huh? Bet we could make some,” Alexander Clarmont-Diaz, the fictional First Son of the United States, writes to Prince Henry, the fictional Prince of Wales, in “Red, White & Royal Blue.” The exchange comes at a pivotal moment in the story, where both figureheads are grappling with their feelings for each other, and with the implications those feelings have to the rest of the world.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We first meet Alex at the royal wedding for Prince Phillip, Henry’s older brother. Alex is antsy, practically bouncing on the heels of his feet — to the point where his friend Nora has to tell him to relax. It doesn’t take long to see what has Alex so wound up: Henry, the charming and handsome Prince of Wales, to whom Alex has been begrudgingly compared since his mother, the President of the United States, became a prominent political figure. His discomfort is palpable.
For his part, Henry feels the same way about Alex, though he’s much more resolute in his feelings. “[Alex] is the most irritating person,” Henry quips when he first lays eyes on the First Son at the wedding. The duo’s loathing for each other builds up before coming to a disastrous — and very public — climax that finds them sprawled out on the floor, covered in $75,000 worth of wedding cake. And that’s all in the first five minutes of the movie.
With the boys’ feud now tabloid fodder, the White House and the Crown go into damage control, forcing Alex and Henry to spend even more time together: first at a slew of appearances in England before crossing the pond for the White House New Year’s gala. It’s between these two events that something unexpected happens (or very expected, if you’ve read the book or seen the bloody trailer). Bantering texts turn to friendship, and it becomes clear that these two frenemies actually do have a lot more in common than either originally thought. By the time the White House New Year’s gala comes around, the two are inseparable — until Henry drunkenly kisses Alex. “Oh. Shit,” Alex says as Henry runs away.
A lot more kissing, a few blowjobs, and an international affair around the world later, Alex and Henry must decide if they feel forever about one another. Will they succumb to the pressures of what is expected of them? Or will they defy the odds and make history?
Based on the novel by the same name, “Red, White & Royal Blue” is a fairy tale almost as sweet as a royal wedding cake. Published in 2019, Casey McQuiston’s (they/them) queer romance novel became an instant success: it was a New York Times bestseller, had numerous reprintings (three before the book was even published) including a special edition featuring an additional chapter, and — of course — a movie adaptation (secured by Amazon Studios prior to publication).
Matthew López, writer of “Inheritance” and most recently the book writer of “Some Like It Hot” on Broadway, wrote and directed the film. His experience and love of theatre can be felt throughout many of the film’s scenes. The New Year’s party, along with the scene when Alex and Henry explore the Victoria & Albert Museum, are two moments that stand out, screaming to be a musical moment.
Taylor Zakhar Perez slips charmingly into the role of Alex, bringing an irresistible but goofier, more down-to-earth energy to the character. Taylor’s version even gets an altered storyline — trading in a desk job working for his mother’s campaign for traveling to Texas to help register the next generation of voters. It is a great upgrade that feels more professionally meaningful for his character and exemplifies his Texas Pride.
Nicholas Galitzine’s Prince of Wales comes off as more quippy than cold, and viewers get the added benefit of Henry’s perspective throughout the story, as opposed to his true self being slowly revealed through Alex’s eyes. Taylor and Nicholas quickly squash any online rumors that they lacked chemistry well before their first kiss. They are every bit a fairy tale couple, equal parts romantic, teasing, and sexy.
The rest of the cast is great as well. Sarah Shahi in particular leaves no crumbs. As Zahra, she never misses a chance to knock Alex down a peg or two, and even gets a jab at the prince (“I will Brexit your head from your body,” before pausing to add “your royal highness.”). Uma Therman revels in President Ellen Claremont’s Southern drawl, and Thomas Flynn, who plays Prince Phillip, is comically enraged in every scene he is in.
Condensing over 400 pages of source material into a tight two hours is no easy feat. To make it work, scenes and characters are moved and combined, for the most part successfully. One character whose absence was felt the hardest was Alex’s sister, June. In the novel, June is Alex’s anchor and support. To quote McQuiston, she “keeps him honest.” Most of those duties now fall to Nora, played by Rachel Hilson. Hilson is charming in the role, but doesn’t get enough screen time to adequately tackle Nora and June’s parts. Another change is the introduction of Miguel Ramos, who is the combination of Alex’s high school best friend Hunter, and his professional mentor Rafael Luna. Played by Juan Castano, Miguel’s arc starts strong, but doesn’t quite land.
Alex and Henry are undoubtedly the beating heart of “Red, White & Royal Blue,” but their story is more than a queer take of the enemies to lovers trope. Right out the gate, McQuiston used them as a way to examine the state of the world, and oh boy was 2019 a time to examine. In America, we were in the middle of a figurative shit storm that was the Trump Presidency. The idea of a female Democratic President was almost as arousing as the hooking up in a polo storage closet. Across the pond, Brexit was looming, as was the idea of a real-life prince abdicating for what he believes. Life imitates art imitates life, etc.
“Funny. I always thought of the whole thing as the most unforgivable thing about me… but you act like it is the best,” Henry says to Alex in one of their many emails, most of which do not make it into the film. But it is this notion — discovering and falling in love with your queer self — that is the soul of “Red, White & Royal Blue.” McQuiston leaves readers with hope, not just for Alex and Henry, but for all of us.
López chose a more streamlined approach. In his fairy tale take, elections, the monarchy, and the rest of the world fade away, leaving only two princes who aren’t so different after all. The end result is still sweet, but it isn’t quite as filling.
“Red, White & Royal Blue” | Available on Amazon