Red, White and Royal Blue is based on Casey McQuiston’s romance novel, which has a very loyal and dedicated fan base. The unashamedly queer romance between Prince Henry and Alex Claremont-Diaz captures the hearts of thousands of romance-depraved readers, making a film adaptation inevitable.
Matthew Lopez, a playwright, makes his directorial debut with the film adaptation of McQuiston’s novel. With such a committed fan base, it’s a huge challenge for someone who is used to telling a story on stage, but not necessarily on the big screen. Thankfully, Lopez has kept the unapologetically romantic and sweet nature of the book, even if the film adaptation otherwise feels severely thin and frustrating.
The film follows the book rather religiously. Alex is the son of Ellen Claremont, the current President of the United States, who causes a physical altercation between himself and England’s beloved Prince Henry.
And no, we don’t mean a fight. The two lads somehow manage to ruin a royal wedding by falling into the wedding cake. It’s not so much of a meet-cute but the PR nightmare that follows forces the dashing young men to spend more time together and quickly, they fall truly, madly, deeply in love with each other, but is the global public ready for such a relationship?
Red, White and Royal Blue mostly plays out like your typical rom-com. Alex and Henry slowly fall in love over the course of several late night phone calls and the sexual tension, at least in theory, is palpable between the two men. Except it isn’t to the audience.
Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine do their best with the thin material they are given. Both actors look the part, but the broad characterisations and cliched dialogue strip Red, White and Royal Blue of any realism. It’s a story so firmly grounded in pure fantasy, it’s hard to find anything to relate to.
In Lopez’ defence, this is clearly by design. The appeal is supposed to be the unbelievable, romantic tale of a prince and the rebellious son of a literal President, but by 2023’s standards, Red, White and Royal Blue feels a little redundant.
The central conflict is still coming to terms with your own sexual identity. For Alex, it’s about embracing his bisexuality and being seen as an asset by his mother and for Henry, it’s about balancing the expectations that come with the royal family and being gay. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it helps that Lopez treats both men and their issues with gentle respect.
There is certainly value in Red White and Royal Blue’s unapologetic sweetness and sickeningly saccharine romance, but the script, penned by Lopez and Ted Malawer, lets the overall film down. The dialogue sounds wooden and the film often speaks down to its audience, never offering anything beneath the surface level. Sarah Shahi stands out from the cast with her witty and sharp performance and it’s always good to see Uma Thurman back, but Red, White and Royal Blue fails to impress.
Perhaps the biggest problem here is that Lopez fails to make both Alex and Henry into likeable or at least, complex characters. They’re both frustratingly shallow and obnoxious and the romance between feels contrived rather than natural. Henry’s Britishness feels Americanised; there’s no real understanding of British culture or a deeper engagement with the responsibilities and complexities of being such a public figure.
Red, White and Royal Blue will most likely please the fans of the book, but for newbies, the film offers very little. The constant push-and-pull dynamic between the romance and the politics of the film doesn’t come naturally and at two hours, Red, White and Royal Blue overstays its welcome.
Red, White and Royal Blue is available on Prime Video from 11 August.