Finally, this movie came out!
Ok, bad pun. And it actually came out, on Prime, way back in August. I did watch it within a day or two of its release, but it’s taken me this long to get to writing this critique.
And usually, my critiques end up being very, um, critical. But, I liked this movie, not gonna lie, so this time I’m going to focus on what I liked, and then answer the most important question of all (at least, where romance movies are concerned): Is it romantic?
Here’s what I liked:
1. Taylor Zakhar Perez’s charisma (and, let’s face it, his body)
The only other performance I’ve seen by Taylor Zachar Perez was his turn as “the other guy” in the Kissing Booth, Part 2 and 3. And I’m sorry to say, I didn’t think he was very attractive and I wasn’t very impressed.
But then, I wasn’t supposed to be. After all, he’s not the hero of those movies. He’s not supposed to outshine Noah, the hero of the series.
But in Red, White and Royal Blue, playing Alex, the son of the US President and the primary lead, he is very much the hero we’re rooting for.
Which makes him instantly much more attractive!
He pulls off the fun-loving, down for anything traits, while still seeming legitimate as a politician. Plus he’s sweet, especially when confessing his lack of experience (with men) to Henry.
2. Henry’s earnestness
Nicholas Galitzine played a Navy Seal in Purple Hearts and Prince Charming to Camila Cabello’s Cinderella… And now a gay British prince.
The boy definitely has range.
After watching him in all three movies, I had no idea whether he was British or American or something else entirely. (Probably Australian. These romance leads always seem to be Australian.)
(He’s British, if you’re interested.)
Plus, half of his romance roles have been gay characters. Some may accuse him of appropriation, but I appreciate such willingness to take risks, especially in such a young actor.
And I think he’s taking a smart route by focusing on romcoms; think of all the actors who made their start in them, then went on to bigger, brighter, and more lucrative things.
Some young actors might not take a ‘stepping stone’ romcom role too seriously, but Galitzine isn’t one of them. As the closeted ‘spare’ prince, Henry, he is beautifully earnest — not campy in the least, and is the perfect foil for easy-going, impulsive Alex.
And when he delivers that speech near the end of the movie: “I’m allowed…,” it’s truly devastating. We completely buy that this is a man who has been trivialized all his life and is just trying to retain some dignity.
3. Plentiful is the (gay) kissing, tender is the (gay) lovemaking
Yes, ‘gay’ kissing and ‘gay’ lovemaking should just be kissing and lovemaking. But, for straight women like me who aren’t used to seeing gay love scenes, this movie comes as a bit of an eye-opener.
I can only think of two movies where I’ve really seen much gay sex (yes, I’m quite sheltered to this point) — Brokeback Mountain and God’s Own Country. And both of those movies depicted gay sex as aggressive and violent. Granted, God’s Own Country is ultimately about one character teaching the other tenderness, but because of how it begins, it still leaves an impression of violence.
The shocking scene in Red, White and Royal Blue is one of face-to-face sex, which doesn’t seem like it should be so unusual or shocking, but somehow it is (probably because of my aforementioned sheltered life).
It is shocking, but also… refreshing?? (Is that a weird word to use? It seems weird.)
The scene is prefaced by a loaded joke about what goes on in private school dorms, which seemed equally shocking (though also refreshing).
Kudos to Prime for showing something I’m pretty certain Netflix never would.
4. Women in power who don’t seem like placeholders
When I think about all the movies out there, and how many are populated mostly or solely by male characters, it makes me mad. Despite that, I’m not that interested in movies that seem stacked with women as a gimmick.
Red, White and Royal Blue features a fully-female White House cast, including a female president and a female secret service agent.
But, this doesn’t seem weird or forced – maybe because these characters aren’t cardboard cutouts… Sarah Shahi in particular is very effective as the deputy chief of staff, especially when she reels at discovering who Alex is dating, but never loses her professionalism.
Uma Thurman is also solid as the POTUS – I could buy this very direct, very practical character winning the presidency (in a saner world, maybe). Was her Texas accent a tad on the campy side? Maybe. But I’m Canadian, so it sounded just fine to me. (I do wonder why her son didn’t have a Texas accent at all, but on second thought, it was probably better that he didn’t).
Unlike in the book, Alex doesn’t have a sister, and I believe some people were mad about that.
But I was not. She didn’t have a lot to do in the book, and wouldn’t have had a lot to do in the movie. Without a confidant, Alex is more isolated, which adds tension. And removing her left room for all those female advisors.
5. More prince, less politics
Towards the end of the book version, as the re-election storyline takes precedence, it’s strongly implied (if not stated) that Alex’s out-coming (is that a word?) might jeopardize his mother’s election.
But in the movie, no one seems particularly concerned that Alex might be a liability – in fact he’s given a critical role in the campaign.
Instead, the end of the movie focuses on Harry and the royal family and how they take the news of ‘the relationship’.
And to this I say, Yay!
My biggest beef with the book is that Harry fades away towards the end, becoming almost a secondary character. This corrects that plot flaw.
And focusing more on Henry’s problems just makes more sense. He’s the one with the real conflict.
After all, Alex’s mother may be POTUS, but she’s also loving and accepting, as is his father. Henry is the one who can’t come out publicly. Henry’s the one with the internal conflict. So the movie’s focus on Henry is much more interesting.
6. His Majesty, Stephen Fry
In case you’re young and weren’t raised by practically British brit-com lovers like I was, I’ll tell you who Stephen Fry is. He’s an actor (duh), perhaps best known for his comedy work in the 80s, in shows like Blackadder with Rowan Atkinson and Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie. Plus he’s been in a whole ton of other things.
And he’s gay, and bipolar (like me), and sometimes controversial. And, he has a certain gravitas (or perhaps pomposity) that makes casting him as the king of England apt.
But – and maybe I’m reading too much into this – I think his gay-ness was key to his casting.
In his only scene, he lectures Henry, urging him to uphold his duty and end things with Alex. But at one point he turns away from the lovers, and gives this very pointed, very pensive look, like he’s thinking something that’s at odds with what he’s telling them.
I think this suggests that he may be gay, too. Or, at least that he has mixed feelings about his role as royal enforcer.
But, maybe I’m reading too much into it.
But he could be gay, and closeted for his whole life out of duty. And if he was, it would lend a bit more weight to the situation – a sense that times are changing, and a prince maybe no longer has to pretend, as he would have been forced to in the past.
7. It’s better than the book
Yeah, I said it. I think the movie irons out some of the weaknesses of the book, like the one I mentioned in point 5 above. However, it’s still a great book, and a safe bet if you’re looking for a smart, entertaining romance.
But is the movie romantic?
I would call Red, White & Royal Blue front-loaded, when it comes to romance.
When Alex and Henry first start getting to know each other, and then secretly start ‘dating’, it’s romantic.
But then they’re a couple and the romantic tension is resolved, then…
The romance peters out.
The movie would have been more romantic if the climax of the movie was a romantic climax, with the pair declaring their love and committing to each other. Alex does follow Henry to England near the end, but with so little conflict remaining between the pair by this point, this gesture didn’t seem all the significant.
That said, I do appreciate the initial ‘dating’ scenes, and it’s still satisfying to see Henry free himself from his shackles at last, and give some comeuppance to his stodgy brother and grandfather. It’s just not terribly romantic.