Nicholas Galitzine and Taylor Zakhar Perez in Red White and Royal Blue via Amazon Prime Video

Red White & Royal Blue Is an International Affair With Surprising Emotional Resonance

Three British monarchs dancing to "Get Low" out of five

There’s no doubt that Netflix has far and away cornered the market on corny, questionably acted book-to-movie teen romance adaptions with juggernaut titles like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Heartstopper, and The Kissing Booth, under their umbrella. Recently, though, it looks like Amazon Prime Video is making a foray into teen book-to-movie romance as well, having released the second season of The Summer I Turned Pretty earlier this year.

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The latest addition to Amazon’s teen romance roster is Red, White, & Royal Blue, the streamer’s first major queer entry in the subgenre. Though it may have some surprisingly witty one-liners and its heart is in the right place, Red, White, & Royal Blue is an inconsistently acted and flimsily written romance that’s lacking in substance, but perfectly serviceable as fluffy, turn-your-brain off guilty pleasure fare.

Starring Taylor Zakhhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine, Red White & Royal Blue follows Alex Claremont Diaz, the son of America’s first female President Ellen Claremont (Uma Thurman). A charming party boy with a middle-class chip on his shoulder, Alex frequently clashes with Henry (Galitzine), the stuffy, stiff-upper-lip British Prince with whom Alex has had nothing but bad experiences. When their thinly-veiled disdain for each other spirals out of control at a royal wedding and ends up throwing Alex’s mother’s re-election campaign in jeopardy, the couple is forced to make nice and endure a press tour together—during which a distinctly different sort of passion emerges.

If you can temper your expectations and agree to check some of your conventional wisdom at the door, there’s a lot to love about something as fluffy and escapist as this—namely, the sheer novelty of seeing a queer couple afforded the same corny, over-indulgent kind of romance movies that studios have been pumping out for straight couples for decades. Alex and Henry are near-textbook enemies to lovers: at first diametrically opposed (quite literally personifying the ideological and cultural differences between their home countries), they slowly begin to discover a mutual passion that eventually yields plenty of heartfelt confession and steamy romance scenes.

With an “R” rating, Red, White, & Royal Blue is able to get some mileage from its love scenes as opposed to panning up at an opportune moment like so many other films in the genre, which rarely score anything beyond a PG-13. As such, we’re treated to a whole host of dirty jokes, stolen steamy moments at high-brow events, and (most memorably) an extended love scene that features some remarkably tender, steamy moments. The love scene in particular is a high point for the film—though Red, White, & Royal Blue is mostly interested in the fun and hijinks to be had from a British Prince and the son of an American politician hooking up, it’s also bookended by moments of genuine emotional poignancy and unexpected tenderness.

In that vein, there’s much more emotional substance to Red, White & Royal Blue than meets the eye—though, unfortunately, the effectiveness of these emotional moments varies drastically depending on who’s delivering them. The runaway MVP of RW&RB is without question Nicholas Galitzine, who’s responsible for a vast majority of the film’s most resonant sequences. By design, Galitzine’s Henry is the dark, sullen, introverted counterpart to Perez’s easygoing Alex, and this dichotomy gives Galitzine the opportunity to flex his emotional range as Henry wrestles with coming out, identity, and blossoming feelings towards someone he thought he hated.

There’s a very real, very honest narrative being told through Henry about the terrifying nature of coming out and navigating queerness with a close-minded family: When RW&RB acknowledges this and gives Henry room to work through the emotional weight of it is when the film is at its most potent, using the inherent gravity of a coming-out narrative to its advantage. Unfortunately, though, where Galitzine brings plenty of endearingly British charm and compelling introspective character moments, the same can’t be said for Galitzine, a genre veteran who’s delivering a performance here that’s very much in line with his turn in The Kissing Booth.

In almost any other circumstance, Perez’ winning smile and easygoing attitude would be enough to sell him as a romantic lead in a teen romance flick, but when acting across from Galitzine, his otherwise standard performance feels incredibly one-note and lackluster. It’s more of a testament to Galitzine’s talent than a slight towards Perez, but there’s a very visible disconnect between these two performances, and one can’t help but feel that if Perez was operating on the same frequency as Galitzine, the film would be far stronger for it.

It’s in the heightened emotional moments that this dichotomy is most frustrating, but in many of Red, White, & Royal Blue‘s lighter moments, the leads operating on different wavelengths simply heightens the contrasting natures of their respective personalities and cultures. Granted, it’s the “fun and games” segments of the film that feels the most formulaic and forgettable (barring a particularly well-edited polo match/hookup session sequence), but even those cookie-cutter moments are bolstered by unique visual storytelling from Matthew López, who gets past the long-distance phase of Alex and Henry’s relationship with particularly memorable flare.

As for the rest of the cast, the adult ensemble is dotted with a number of remarkably high-profile faces—most notably, Uma Thurman and Stephen Fry. Thurman does her best to make Alex’s mother Ellen interesting, but between the shallowness of the character on the page and the ridiculousness of her “Texas” accent, she lands decidedly on the “ridiculous rom-com parent” side of the spectrum. The only true scene-stealer of the ensemble is Sarah Shahi as Zahra, Ellen’s Chief of Staff—Shahi sells her one-liners with admirable gumption, one of the few cast members who reliably delivers on all fronts.

Undoubtedly, there’s plenty of charm to be found in Red, White, & Royal Blue. The premise itself reads like the perfect modern queer fairytale, and in many ways, that’s exactly what the film is—a perfectly imperfect queer paradise where bigotry is present but never allowed to triumph over the power of gay love. Though its rosy-eyed view of politics and bigotry can at time feel cloying, there’s a good-natured charm to Red, White, & Royal Blue that makes it digestible in even the most ridiculous moments— a sweet, at times poignant entry to the blossoming canon of queer rom-coms.

(featured image: Amazon Prime Video)


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Author
Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates