“When the revolution comes, it will be because of this wedding,” says first son Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez) in the opening minutes of Red, White & Royal Blue. A nod to a “revolution is coming” is a cliché at this point, vague enough to gesture at pretty much anything. In this case, at least, the vagueness is the point. Alex is referring to the conspicuous consumption before him, but anyone with at least passing knowledge of the story they’re about to witness knows they’re about to watch a gay rom-com, a genre growing in prominence but still relatively rare. Red, White & Royal Blue, ultimately, isn’t revolutionary. It’s more traditional than not—which means, thankfully, that it’s still a lot of fun.
These first few minutes are at a royal wedding, where the groom’s younger brother, Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), and Alex are already foes. Alex gets drunk at the reception, picks a fight with Henry, and the next thing you know, they’re both on the ground in front of various heads of state covered in a $75,000 wedding cake. Upon his return to the U.S., Alex’s mother, President Ellen Claremont (a delightfully over-the-top Uma Thurman) fears that the incident could distract from her reelection bid, and commands that Alex head back to Britain to patch things up with Henry.
You can tell where this is going. The enemies-to-lovers transition happens blissfully quickly. Alex and Henry both realize the other was never as bad as they had thought and begin a texting relationship, culminating in a kiss at a White House New Year’s Eve party. The scenes of their next few rendezvous, if more PG-13 than marketed, are genuinely steamy. Unfortunately, the sexy fun takes a back seat in the second half of the film as the men’s duties take center stage.
Alex is a law student who feels that his suggestions for his mother’s campaign—namely, flipping Texas—have been written off. When his notes get leaked to the press, Alex successfully lobbies his mother to take a more active role in the campaign, becoming a valuable surrogate and spending weeks on the road. Henry visits every chance he gets, quickly fitting in with Alex’s liberal and welcoming family. At its best, Red, White & Royal Blue is a complete fantasy; a frothy, five-figure wedding cake made of illicit summer love.
But that fantasy is largely Alex’s. Although the story is nominally split between Alex and Henry, it’s the former’s narrative that stands front and center—disappointingly, as Henry’s situation has far higher stakes. Alex is a public figure for at least the next four years; Henry has been one since birth. Alex, bisexual, has a more or less painless time coming to terms with his sexuality and sharing his identity with his Democrat parents. Henry’s family—the British Royal family—confronts him about his relationship with Alex in a climactic scene, where the main issue raised is that the British people won’t accept a gay prince. But as much as The Crown is beholden to public perception, they’re also beholden to something far less fluid: a bloodline. Henry is only the spare (the heir’s wedding opens the film) so it wouldn’t be the end of the whole royal bloodline, but royalty’s main duty is to produce more royalty. It’s a bit bizarre that the narrative chooses to ignore this as the crux of the conflict with Henry’s sexuality.
Of course, it’s also hard to detangle the story from the Meghan-and-Harry of it all, and it’s a comparison the film encourages; Henry and Harry literally have the same name and station. Red, White & Royal Blue is based on a novel that was published in 2019; Meghan and Harry were very much in the public eye, but we’ve since lived through a flurry of racist tabloid coverage, Megxit, the Oprah interview, the whole Netflix saga … in short, it was not a simple case of Love Conquers All. It’s hard to put that reality out of mind when watching Alex and Henry predictably arrive at the same conclusion. Monarchs come and monarchs go, but The Crown hardly ever changes.
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect Red, White & Royal Blue to offer a solution to all of this, but it’s a bit frustrating to see the issue skirted since these tensions are so much more interesting than what we see Alex dealing with. The film consistently frames them as representing opposite ideologies, even if the characters don’t share these ideologies themselves. Alex represents progress; Henry represents tradition. Henry’s identities are at odds with each other, and while we do get a taste of this conflict—and Galitzine really sells it, communicating more than the script with his watery, puppy dog eyes—a story this soapy and pulpy should get into it. Here, more is more.
Ultimately, Red, White & Royal Blue is by and large that exact kind of soapy fun. If the geopolitical ramifications of a gay rom-com aren’t airtight, it’s forgivable. At its best, the film works with its own internal teen drama logic. Would the film be better—or even revolutionary—if it was willing to go a bit deeper? Maybe. But if there is anything we can learn from Prince Henry, it’s that tradition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.