REVIEW: Red, White & Royal Blue (2023, dir. Matthew López)

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 121 mins

UK Distributor: Prime Video

WHO’S IN RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE?

Taylor Zakhar Perez, Nicholas Galitzine, Uma Thurman, Stephen Fry, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Ellie Bamber, Malcolm Atobrah, Clifton Collins Jr., Aneesh Sheth, Polo Morín, Sharon D. Clarke, Thomas Flynn, Malcolm Atobrah, Ahmed Elhaj, Akshay Khanna, Juan Castano

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Matthew López (director, writer), Ted Malawer (writer), Greg Berlanti, Michael Riley McGrath and Sarah Schechter (producers), Drum & Lace (composer), Stephen Goldblatt (cinematographer), Kristina Hetherington (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The unruly son (Perez) of the US President (Thurman) connects with a handsome British Prince (Galitzine)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE?

Most of the fairy tales we grew up reading were all about overcoming the impossible odds and winding up in the arms of the handsome prince, with whom the main character would live happily ever after. As we got older, though, the more we realised that the fanciful follies of stories like Cinderella, Snow White, The Frog Princess and so on were mere fantasies, designed to leave us dreaming of lives we could never realistically obtain, if it weren’t for immeasurable wealth and enormous privilege.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the fairy tales no longer have some kind of magical power over us, and when utilised properly they can enchant as well as reflect on our best values, including our inner most desire to, once again, fall in love with that handsome prince and achieve the happily ever after we so crave. This is most true with Red, White & Royal Blue, a modern-day fairy tale* with very progressive sensibilities that remind us all of the timeless and universal appeal that such stories, no matter how fantastical, can have on all of us – while also being, for my money at least, a really sweet and utterly endearing romance.

[*To clarify: by “fairy tale” I am referring to the classic stories and am not using the derogatory term for homosexuals as some sort of double entendre within the film’s context. I’m fairly certain you realise this by now, but just in case you didn’t, this should hopefully clear that up.]

Based on Casey McQuiston’s acclaimed 2019 novel of the same name, director/co-writer Matthew López’s film quickly introduces us to our two star-crossed lovers: Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the hard-partying son of US President Ellen Claremont (Uma Thurman), and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the handsome British Royal and grandson of the King (Stephen Fry). At first, neither can stand one another, leading to an embarrassing confrontation at a wedding which sullies the relationship between both countries, and forces them to publicly spend more time together in an effort to solve the PR crisis. As they continue getting to know each other more and more, a sudden burst of feelings erupts through them, and very soon the two young men begin a secret romantic relationship, one that is constantly threatened by the different worlds that they both come from, which might not accept them for who they truly are.

With a plot synopsis like that, there’s no other way to describe this film except for the glorious mix of a classic fairy tale and someone’s Prince William and Hunter Biden erotic fan-fiction. But, with two addendums: one, it’s good Prince William and Hunter Biden erotic fan-fiction; and two, López fully embraces the fantasy without sacrificing much of the believability. The first-time filmmaker, better known as a playwright for such acclaimed plays as The Inheritance and The Whipping Ground, places a firm focus on the development of our two protagonists’ relationship, going from petty rivals to genuinely caring about one another at a stern pace that feels natural and not so forced. As they grow closer to one another, so does the viewer, as López also shows them getting on with activities outside their relationship, with Taylor Zakhar-Perez’s Alex eagerly helping his mother gain new voters in her home state of Texas, and Nicholas Galitzine’s Henry visiting young patients at a children’s hospital, as well as an abundance of other princely duties.

As a result, these characters feel very well-rounded and extremely likeable as individuals in addition to as a couple. You are definitely rooting for them to be together, not least because the romantic chemistry between charismatic actors Zakhar-Perez and Galitzine is sublime, but also for their personal struggles as they are, despite the characters’ unquestionable privileges, deeply identifiable in their fears of coming out within institutions that won’t allow them to publicly express their sexuality (Galitzine has a tremendous piece of non-verbal acting towards the third act which reflects those fears rather beautifully). Anyone who may have found it difficult in the past to reveal their true selves to the world, regardless of whomever they are attracted to, will find a strong sense of comfort in this imagined scenario where two of the most sought-after public figures are similarly coming to grips with who they are, in a world that might bite back at them if they don’t play their cards right.

López and co-writer Ted Malawer constantly find ways to address these struggles without falling back on easy stereotypes, or even easier sitcom humour that enables such stereotypes (except for a giant cake gag at the very start that is heavily foreshadowed as soon as it appears on-screen, and the occasional hammy performance that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Will & Grace). Instead, they treat the characters’ romantic journey with enormous respect, in ways that both have you completely on their side and refuse to conform for the more conservative-minded viewer, with intimate sex scenes that are deeply sensual and even borderline risqué for its 12A UK certificate. While it’s true that the film takes a light and ever so slightly naïve approach to the subject matter, with most if not all mentions of societal homophobia kept to an absolute minimum, Red, White & Royal Blue nonetheless feels committed to bringing the conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ romances in the public eye to a mainstream and predominantly accepting audience, and presents a positive and charming attitude that is bound to capture their imaginations.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what a good fairy tale is supposed do? Tell a wholesome story with identifiable characters, give them a universally understandable obstacle to overcome, and then they all live happily ever after? That’s exactly what Red, White & Royal Blue does, with a much-needed reminder that no matter how outlandish or unbelievable the scenario may be, so long as the fairy tale is done right then it has the power to last beyond its years, and thanks to winning efforts on numerous fronts, this is a fairy tale that more than earns its happily ever after.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Red, White & Royal Blue is a sweet and hugely endearing fairy-tale romance that puts heavy focus on the blossoming relationship between its two main characters, and through some poignant (if light) writing and charming performances it is a highly effective film that might have you falling in love all over again.

Red, White & Royal Blue is now streaming exclusively on Prime Video

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