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Red, White & Royal Blue review – Think Meghan and Harry: The Movie… but gay

Tale of an English prince and the US president’s son is wry and witty at first, but then becomes unstuck as it enters into soap opera mode

Jessie Thompson
Friday 11 August 2023 19:47 BST
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Red, White & Royal Blue trailer

Oh, the Special Relationship. Has it always had this much homoerotic tension, or have I only just noticed? Blair and Bush gazing at one another. That feisty break-up speech delivered by prime minister Hugh Grant in Love Actually. Now there’s Red, White & Royal Blue, a film adaptation of the bestselling BookTok novel by American author Casey McQuiston. Doubling down on the intercontinental combo of flirty banter and negging by having an angsty British royal fall in love with the son of the American president, it starts off so well – all wry self-awareness and closely-observed wit. But it falls apart when it marries itself to another well-trodden genre: the royal soap opera.

Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) is the arrogant, stuffy royal. Alex (Taylor Sakhar Perez) is the charming, idealistic next generation of a political dynasty. They first met at the Melbourne Climate Conference – classic – and have had a weird, tense rivalry ever since. It’s a clash of cultures, a war between a benefactor of inherited privilege and a nepo baby, and your classic “enemies to lovers” trope beloved by BookTok fans. “Did your parents send you to snobbery school,” Alex drunkenly snarls at Henry at a swanky royal wedding, “or does looking down on people come naturally to you?” Next thing you know, the pair are having a fight that leads to the destruction of a £75k cake, which soon becomes headline news and ignites fears of a diplomatic incident.

Red, White & Royal Blue is directed and co-written by Matthew Lopez, whose epic two-part play The Inheritance, about the New York gay community after the Aids crisis, earned rave reviews in the West End and comparisons with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. It successfully combined the acid wit of a modern sitcom with moments of startling grace, and that droll, knowing sense of humour feels present in Red, White & Royal Blue’s first half. When Henry and Alex have to join forces to win back the media – all sentimental photo ops at children’s hospitals and stilted sit-down telly interviews – it perfectly captures the absurdity of the deal royals and politicians have to strike with the press.

Having been forced together, Henry and Alex find that – yep – they actually quite like each other. Soon it’s all teasing texts, 3am phone calls and chats about Byron and Zadie Smith… before the secret snogs commence. “He grabbed my hair in a way that made me understand the difference between rugby and football,” Alex says of the clinch. Perez and Galitzine are absurdly well cast as the young lovers, like cartoon Disney princes made into humans. And Uma Thurman, as Alex’s mother and the American president, delivers one of the most delightfully camp performances I’ve ever seen, even making the line “Prime Minister, this is my son” sound like an innuendo.

But it’s when the film veers into more serious territory that it becomes unstuck. There’s rich storytelling potential in the royals, these symbols of power who are so public but so unknowable. The Crown has long mined the idea of the institution being a prison; here the monarchy’s traditionalism becomes a machine that forces Henry to deny his true self – and therefore his sexuality.

Soon, the script becomes clichéd. “That’s my life!” cries Henry; “It doesn’t mean you have to accept it!” Alex cries back. The whole plot feels heavily inspired by Prince Harry’s relentless, disgruntled media tour, up to the line “Prince Henry belongs to Britain” and the fact that the character lost his father at a young age and “the palace insisted on parading me around”. There’s also an air of liberal fantasy to it all – there’s a Black female PM and a female American president, but the royals are homophobic – that feels disengaged with the real world, like the film wants to have its cake and eat it, too.

But what of the sex scenes? Sweetly, Red, White & Royal Blue – like many BookTok faves from Emily Henry to Ali Hazelwood – has a strong whiff of Mills and Boon. We see splayed fingers, hands in hair, and rutting intercut with some shots of a robust polo match. It’s romantic, rather than pure filth. I’m sure this will be a huge smash – clips are already going viral on TikTok. I just wish it was as good as the hype.

Dir: Matthew Lopez. Starring: Taylor Sakhar Perez, Nicholas Galitzine, Uma Thurman, Stephen Fry, Sarah Shahi, Sharon D Clarke, Clifton Collins Jr. 118 minutes.

‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ is on Prime Video from 11 August

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