Red, White & Royal Blue – Film Review

From the team that produced surprise comedy smash Free Guy and the refreshingly violent Titans live action adaptation for Netflix, comes one of the most hotly anticipated rom-coms of the year: Red, White & Royal Blue.

Adapted from Casey McQuiston’s New York Times bestseller of the same name by writer-director Matthew Lopez, Red, White & Royal Blue stars Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in lead roles with support from Hollywood heavyweight Uma Thurman, Sex/Life star Sarah Shahi, and a brief cameo from Stephen Fry as King James III.

Red, White & Royal Blue follows the bitter-rivalry-turned-budding-romance between Alex Claremont-Diaz (Zakhar Perez), the son of the USA’s first female President, and Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), a prince and the second grandson of the King of England and Great Britain. On a visit to the UK for the wedding of Henry’s brother Prince Philip, the young men get themselves into hot water when a physical altercation goes immediately and highly public.

With both men in positions of relative fame and power, Henry and Alex are tasked with repairing the respective images of the Crown and the White House by feigning friendship for the paparazzi. Before long, their mutual animosity turns into a tentative friendship and passionate relationship that neither saw coming nor know how to control.

With the growing popularity of queer romance shows like Netflix’s Heartstopper and Young Royals, and queer characters like Eric Effiong from Sex Education, adapting a book as beloved as Red, White & Royal Blue to film was a no-brainer. And as queer romances go, this one ticks all the boxes. Handsome leads? Check. Laugh Out Loud quips? Double check. Political drama? Yup. Uma Thurman? Ding, ding, ding!

Truly a highlight of Red, White & Royal Blue is the excellent casting of Alex, Henry, and Madame President, Ellen Claremont. Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine have an undeniable chemistry, whether they’re throwing verbal barbs or flirting their asses off. Zakhar Perez is appropriately on the charm offensive at all times, fitting into Alex’s shoes flawlessly. He’s equal parts doe-eyed, loud, and confident, yet Zakhar Perez plays him with such tenderness, that it’s impossible to miss the vulnerabilities that linger behind Alex’s eyes and wry smile.

Galitzine, whose previous credits include the somewhat maligned film Purple Hearts, is the perfect balance to Zakhar Perez’s Alex. Soft spoken yet sporting a cocky façade, Henry is sensitive, caring, and carries the weight of centuries worth of history on his shoulders. While Alex enables Henry to open up and embrace more of himself, Henry’s conservative attitude to life in the spotlight helps to ground and enlighten Alex. Galitzine also just looks so extremely regal and wears the royal medals and sashes very well (Galitzine himself is descended from Russian royalty which is just a little serendipitous).

Thurman, while not who I initially pictured as President Ellen Claremont, perfectly embodied the character’s warm but tough parenting style that both supports and restrains Alex’s brashness. The extremely southern accent is a little jarring at first, but as the character is meant to be from Texas, it is not entirely out of place.

The film’s other top-billing guest star, Stephen Fry, is comparatively underused and relegated to a single cameo in the film’s final stretch. As his character is extremely influential and directly responsible for the way Henry separates his true self from his public self, it would have been nice to see more of King James III sprinkled throughout the film’s runtime.

Outside of its wonderful cast, Red, White & Royal Blue also contains some of my favourite shots of any romantic comedy to date. As with the book, a lot of Alex and Henry’s relationship is detailed through snippets of text messages and emails, and these are executed on screen not only with image overlays of phone and laptop screens but with Henry manifesting into frames; from a fleeting moment on a park bench as Alex jogs by, to the pair laying in Alex’s bed to mimic a late-night phone call.

The choice of inserting a physical presence of Henry into these scenes helped to make them more layered and complete. By showing Henry in these scenes, the build-up of their relationship feels so genuine that when the first kiss finally comes, it’s natural, anticipated, and cathartic for the audience.

Positives aside, the pacing of Red, White & Royal Blue can sometimes feel a bit fast; the rivalry-to-romance pipeline is probably more accurately described as a steep plummet as Alex and Henry seem to develop an intimate relationship very quickly. However, bearing in mind that writer and director Matthew Lopez is squeezing 420 pages of a semi slow-burn into 118 minutes makes it forgivable.

Having to condense source material into something that can be translated on camera is difficult enough, but doing it while balancing the expectations and anxieties of fans across the globe is a wholly different challenge. Lopez definitely took some liberties where necessary when working on the screenplay. Some beloved characters from the novel like Alex’s sister June, were missing, while others were given more prominence. Ultimately, at its core, what Lopez and his team created was still distinctly Red, White & Royal Blue and any disappointment I had as someone who read and loved McQuiston’s novel was easily mitigated by how well the remaining characters filled those empty spaces.

For mushy hearted love story enthusiasts, Red, White & Royal Blue is an absolute must-watch. Whether you’ve read the book once, fifty times, or have never heard of it before, Red, White & Royal Blue is a gooey, funny, beautiful representation of love between two people who realise that their worlds are not as far apart as they first thought.

Red, White & Royal Blue is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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