Producers: Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter Director: Matthew López Screenplay: Matthew López and Ted Malawer Cast: Nicholas Galitzine, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Clifton Collins Jr., Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Stephen Fry, Uma Thurman, Ellie Bamber, Thomas Flynn, Malcolm Atobrah, Akshay Khanna, Sharon D. Clarke, Aneesh Sheth, Bridget Benstead and Juan Castano Distributor: Amazon Studios/Prime Video
All romantic comedies are fantasies to some degree, but this one is truly fantastical, at least as far as plot is concerned. Based on the 2019 novel by Casey McQuiston, “Red, White & Royal Blue” concerns a love affair that develops between Alex Clermont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar-Perez), the handsome son of the first female president of the United States, Ellen Clermont (Uma Thurman), and her senator husband Oscar Diaz (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the handsome younger son of the recently-deceased Prince of Wales—the royal family’s Spare, as he (along with the real Prince Harry, we know from his book) describes himself.
The two are portrayed as initially disliking one another intensely—the reason is eventually explained—and making an extravagant mess at the wedding reception for Henry’s older brother, snooty Prince Philip (Thomas Flynn); while arguing, they literally crash into a giant cake that comes tumbling down on them. The ensuing political brouhaha leads to a PR campaign requiring them to pretend to be friends, and so Alex visits Britain for some photo ops with the prince. During a joint visit to a hospital an incident forces the security detail to shove them into a storage closet for protection, and it’s there that they have a confessional conversation that breaks the ice between them. Yes, they open up to one another while literally closeted, though their actual coming out as a gay couple won’t occur until much later as a result of tabloid rumor-mongering spread by Miguel Ramos (Juan Castano), a reporter who once had a fling with Alex.
In the meantime they exchange chummy meetings with one another in the U.S. or England, depending on who’s able to make the transatlantic trip. Encouraged by his younger sister Beatrice (Ellie Bamber), Henry is the first to make a direct approach with a kiss, leaving a confused Alex to decide how to respond. But he too finds support in his close friend Nora (Rachel Hilson), and it doesn’t take him long to reciprocate; soon their intimacies grow more intense. Initially they opt for clandestine nights together, but it’s not long before Zahri (Sarah Shahi), the president’s chief of staff, finds them together and must deal with the potential fallout—during Ellen’s close reelection campaign, yet.
Under the direction of playwright Matthew López, who also co-wrote the adaptation with Ted Malawer, “Red, White & Royal Blue” comes off as an extremely old-fashioned take on a scenario that could have had a lot more edginess. Just how old-fashioned is demonstrated in the last act, when the possibility arises that the two “princes” might do the apparently expedient thing and sever their relationship. Their decision is encapsulated in two songs (among many that interrupt Drum & Lace’s perky score): Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 “If I Loved You,” followed by “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” popularized by Elvis Presley in 1961.
That choice merely emphasizes the fact that “Red, White & Royal Blue” tells a tale that might have been told in a movie of the 1940s or 1950s, about a romance between a prince and princess of two hostile countries in some Ruritanian fantasy. The only difference is the addition of the gay twist—and, of course, some bedroom scenes a bit (only a bit, mind you) more spicy than they would have been then. Of course, in either case the family reactions would need to be dealt with. Here, being good progressive Democrats, both Ellen and Oscar are on the side of true love, even assisting the lovers to enjoy time together. Except for Beatrice, however, Henry’s family reacts negatively. Philip is appalled and antagonistic and the boys’ grandfather King James (Stephen Fry) is worried about the public reaction, which turns out to be remarkably positive on both sides of the Atlantic. That only goes to reinforce how much of a fantasy this story is.
But if you’re willing to accept the movie on its own toothless terms, it’s reasonably tolerable fluff. Galitzine and Perez are both handsome, likable fellows, and the script doesn’t demand any really strenuous acting from them. Thurman never really convinces as a savvy politico and her supposedly Texas accent doesn’t either, but she makes Ellen a pleasant presence, while Shahi gets some laughs as her harried assistant. No one else has much to do; it’s especially sad to watch the usually inventive Fry wasted in a stock one-scene part. On the visual side the picture possesses the requisite sheen, thanks to Miren Marañón’s production design (which makes good use of the sumptuous British locales), Keith Madden’s elegant costumes, and Stephen Goldblatt’s glossy cinematography. There are moments when one wishes the editing by Kristina Hetherington and Nick Moore had a touch more pep, but generally the picture moves along fairly well.
The film ends with Ellen winning her hard-fought reelection campaign by flipping Texas to the Democratic ledger, courtesy of Alex’s direction of her campaign there. As fantastical as the whole of the picture is, any resident of the Lone Star state will certainly agree that in fantasy terms, that really takes the cake. Just ask Beto O’Rourke.