Review: 'Red, White & Royal Blue' is a Winning Romantic Fantasy
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.
Smoldering screen presences Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine play Alex Claremont-Diaz, the telegenic and high-spirited son of US President Ellen Claremont (Uma Thurman), and Prince Henry of England, the unlikely couple at the center of "Red, White & Royal Blue," a rom-com based on the popular novel by queer, non-binary author Casey McQuiston.
The two young men first met years earlier at a state function, and took a dislike to one another – or, at least, that's what they think happened. The reality was quite different, but the two each have to get past thinking the other one despises them in order to sort out their true feelings... and those feelings turn out to be complicated and highly charged (insert the inevitable reference to the "special relationship" between the UK and the US here).
Alex and Henry find themselves at a turning point after the royal wedding of Henry's older brother, Prince Philip (Thomas Flynn) – an occasion of towering expectations and an even more towering wedding cake, which the two manage to destroy in a moment of confusion and irritation. They make an amusing picture in their tuxedos, covered with frosting, but officials and diplomats see the catastrophe as a possible diplomatic crisis, so the two have to put on happy faces and pretend to be the best of friends for a media-hungry public. They smile for the cameras, but remain on less-than-friendly terms behind the scenes.
Until, that is, their enforced proximity – along with instant messaging – allows them to forge a bond. When the insults turn friendly, the underlying erotic charge powering their feelings for each other find their way to the surface. A series of carefully choreographed down-low hookups and romantic emails follows. But can they ever be too careful? Or will their love come to light? Will a same-sex romance between the sons of national leaders bring the monarchy down or cost Alex's mom her re-election bid, which already hinges on flipping Texas from a red state to a blue one? The film gleefully embraces many fantasies, but this one might be the hardest to visualize.
Fans of "The Crown" will be familiar with Henry's dilemma around becoming secretly involved with someone other than a Buckingham Palace-approved romantic partner (British royalty aren't supposed to have opinions, let alone private lives). Anyone who's ever seen a romantic comedy will anticipate the film's beats, right down to the self-serving and vengeful machinations of a political reporter out to capitalize on the young men's romance.
All the same, the two leads bring a heartfelt freshness to their roles, along with loads of charm (and a few nicely done sex scenes). Thurman, in her turn, makes the president a picture of accepting parenthood (as does Clifton Collins Jr., playing Alex's father), despite the awkwardness of discovering her son is gay just before an election. But it's Sarah Shahi as Zahra Bankston – a no-nonsense handler for the president who almost can't handle Alex and Henry – that steals the show, turning the inevitable situations that arise into comic high points.
The movie makes time and space – just enough – for the political situations it has to navigate, and offers a brief appearance by out English actor Stephen Fry as the King of England. But its heart remains with the two guys in love who, despite their respective high profiles, look to make their connection a cause for celebration despite a system that insists on trying to make it a liability.
"Red, White & Royal Blue" streams exclusively on Prime Video starting Aug. 11.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.