FILM REVIEW: Red, White & Royal Blue
Updated: Oct 2
It's Politics, but for Gay People.
The novel Red, White & Royal Blue was released in 2019 and quickly became one of the cornerstones of contemporary queer literature (and queer bookTok, to be honest). Its depiction of a secret affair turned long term romance between the fictional President's son and Prince of England was instantly charming, engaging and steamy. Author Casey McQuiston created a world that felt lived in, and nuanced. They filled it with characters we grew to love, which in turn led to the book becoming a smash success; it was inevitable that this much beloved book would be adapted into a movie at some point in time. While there is a propensity for book-to-film adaptations to be less than stellar, this film version overall succeeds in telling the story that captured readers hearts, even if it does leave out some of the magic of the book.
Red, White & Royal Blue is primarily a romantic comedy, and this is where the movie truly excels. Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine have truly magnetic chemistry as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry, respectively. They play off of each other very nicely, and navigate the "enemies to friends to lovers" story of their romance perfectly. Galitzine in particular does a fantastic job at navigating the difficult struggle of his character's responsibility to the Crown, and the obstacles it creates in his desire for love and happiness. While their scenes together are electric, Perez struggles to have similar chemistry with other actors in the film, often coming across as a little stiff, when his character is supposed to have unmatched charm and charisma.
The way they filmed certain phone calls or text exchanges felt fresh and added a theatricality to the scenes.
There are some really fascinating storytelling devices used in this film to chronicle the growing love of our two main characters. The way they filmed certain phone calls or text exchanges felt fresh and added a theatricality to the scenes. This makes sense, as director and writer Matthew Lopez makes his transitional debut from stage to screen. Lopez, who won the Tony Award for writing modern gay epic The Inheritance, continues to showcase his ability to write some truly fantastic dialogue and characters. He does a wonderful job of translating our two love-struck leads from page to screen, and is able to beautifully adapt some of the most iconic moments from the book. I do wish that the end of the film was paced a little better, we spend a good amount of time building up their relationship, but then once shit hits the fan, it all wraps up a bit too quickly for the obstacles that have been established.
Lost in Translation
Inevitably, in any adaptation, there are things that don't make the cut from one medium to another. This movie chooses to focus primarily on the relationship between Alex and Henry, and while yes, that is the primary focus of the book, the world and the characters around them are more fleshed out and developed. What this lack of detail creates for the film is a bit of a mixed bag. The characters surrounding Henry and Alex have less autonomy and subplots, with some characters completely removed; all that remains are characters who only exist in relation to our two main beaus. It's a little frustrating to see, as the majority of those remaining side characters are people of color, primarily women. They deserve more agency and acknowledgement than what is given to them, however the performers all do their best with the limited script, and carve our some stand-out moments. Sarah Shahi, Aneesh Sheth, and Rachel Hilson as Zahra, Amy, and Nora, respectively are all naturally talented and captivating, which made me wish they were given more to do within the script.
All that remains are characters who only exist in relation to our two main beaus.
Another aspect of adaptation is the cutting of characters and plot points, or replacing them entirely. There is one egregious case of this on display in this movie. Two characters are cut, Alex's mentor and his sister, and aspects of these characters are tossed in, along with a bunch of bad qualities, into a new character Miguel: a journalist that Alex had previously hooked up with. He's a nefarious character that you can tell from the beginning is going to be bad news, and his inclusion in this story adds a manufactured discomfort anytime he is on screen. There's also never any resolution with this character, he just shows up periodically to be a creep, and then is an asshole, and then we don't see him again.
The Joys of Being Queer
One of the best aspects of this movie, is the happy ending. We are starting to get more and more queer stories that are not solely focused on the trauma a queer person might endure in their life, and that is truly heartwarming to see. Red, White & Royal Blue is not without its drama, but its overall message is one of love and romance, which we could always use more of. While it may be a messy adaptation, the bones of this tale still create a decent movie, which captures the spirit of the book, if not all the moving parts. We're in a golden age of queer cinema, and while this movie may not be as innovative or groundbreaking as others, it still brought a fair amount of joy to my gay heart watching these two do their best Hallmark impression.
Red, White & Royal Blue is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
...also, I somehow went through this whole review without mentioning that Uma Thurman plays Alex's mom, first female President of the United States, Ellen Claremont; she's great as always, with her southern Texas drawl, and scenery chewing. But you knew this. She's Uma Thurman.