Red, White & Royal Blue ***
Starring: Taylor Zakhar Perez, Nicholas Galitzine, Uma Thurman, Stephen Fry
Director: Matthew López
Casey McQuiston’s debut novel ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ achieved widespread success and acclaim upon its release in 2019, so it’s hardly surprising that Amazon Prime scooped up the rights to release the movie adaptation of this high concept “what if” rom-com.
Alex Claremont-Diaz (Perez – The Kissing Booth) is the son of the US President (Thurman – Kill Bill, Dangerous Liaisons). He has a long-standing rivalry with the British Prince Henry (Galitzine – Cinderella, Handsome Devil), but when the two accidentally create a tabloid scandal at a royal wedding, the rivals are forced to pretend that they are best friends for the press in an attempt to smooth over the damage. Though they initially struggle to hide their animosity, they soon begin to realise that they have more in common than they initially thought and an unexpected attraction builds between them.
This is the stuff of pure fan-fiction fantasy, but there is something genuinely compelling about the idea of both a gay prince and a gay First Son, with plenty of dramatic potential for exploring the consequences. The book does manage to deep dive into both, but the film struggles to scratch the surface with either. This is glossy idealism, with wokery plastered all over the screen from the beginning, but we all know that the stakes would be highest from the standpoint of public opinion and online trolls than from individuals within the establishment. But this frothy rom-com is set in a world with easy villains – including a scene-stealing cameo from Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, Wilde) as the King – where it is narratively easier to channel light homophobia through an individual rather than exploring it socially.
Above all else, this is light escapism. It rightly focuses most of its energy on building the chemistry between its leads, with both appearing like total dreamboats on screen. The casting is spot on, with Taylor Zakhar Perez the All American hunk and Nicholas Galitzine looking like an actual sibling of William and Harry. Of course the British Royal Family here is entirely fictional, but the similarities are quite wonderfully blatant. Meanwhile, the American White House is underdeveloped, with Uma Thurman sleepwalking through a role that she doesn’t seem to have spent time preparing for.
The film’s biggest flaw, however, is the clear limitations of its budget. This is a film about two of the richest establishments in the entire world and this streaming release simply doesn’t have the funds to make it actually look real. The NYE party thrown by Alex at the White House looks like a cheap gypsy wedding in a marquis, while the Royal Wedding’s media footage looks like it was shot by Perez Hilton on a cameraphone. It might have the costumes, the casting and the veneer right, but it certainly doesn’t manage to pass as the actual Establishment.
As light romantic entertainment, this succeeds on many levels, but in representing the mechanisms of trans-Atlantic government it stumbles at the first hurdle. Romantic, frothy, sexy and fun, this is a delightfully saccharine diversion, but its only real substance comes from the connection between its picture-perfect heroes.
UK Release: Out now on VOD on Amazon Prime