It’s never easy to adapt a written work of over 300 pages that would be at least an 8–10-hour read into a 2-hour movie, but the industry does this more often than you’d imagine. You may be surprised to realize how many of your favorite movies and shows were actually originally novels. I mean, it makes full sense considering there’s already an existing fan base for the characters and the bonds they’ve formed within the book, even though that also means a kind of pressure to impress. Red, White, and Royal Blue is an immersive experience because of how it navigates between the two main characters as well as all the other people in their lives that make their relationship possible.
What’s lacking in the movie is the presence of two very important characters in the book: June, Alex’s sister, and Henry’s mother. I do understand that with budget constraints and studio rules, it’s practically impossible to do exactly what the book commands, but what I’m disappointed about is how these two characters are essentially the heart of the book and were considered omittable. Catherine is still alright because she comes in much later in the book, and maybe her part could’ve been conveyed by others, but Alex’s best friend and confidante being completely missing was a little bit of a buzzkill for me. Additionally, our favorite characters, apart from Alex and Henry, that are present in the film, also take a backseat completely. I guess that’s why it makes more sense to adapt to TV shows.
The film focuses on romance between Henry, a royal who is fourth in line for the crown in England, and Alex, the son of America’s first female President. Undoubtedly, the chemistry between Alex and Henry is “butterflies in the stomach.” Both Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine are impeccable in their roles, with the former stealing the show in many moments with his charismatic charm and eye-catching acting. Maybe it’s because the book is from Alex’s point of view, and the movie follows through on that too, so it focuses more on Alex than Henry. Not to say that Nicholas’ melancholic gaze and troubled expressions are any less impressive.
Alex and Henry’s story is one of forbidden love between star-crossed lovers from completely different worlds. To add to that, they’re public figures and in a homosexual relationship, thus encountering many more obstacles in their way. The bickering between the two is on point, and it seems the “enemies to lovers” trope is here to stay for as long as romance as a genre exists. Nora, Pez, and Bea are severely underutilized, which is such a shame because there’s no way of developing a sense of wanting to be a part of their cool gang. We barely see them interact at all. I’m leaving behind the thought that Taylor and Nicholas are too old to play these roles, though.
Given that I may be biased towards the book as a first read, then watch kind of person, objectively, Red, White, and Royal Blue is still the perfect modern-day gay “Achilles and Patroclus” we needed (yes, maybe non-readers deserve to see a Song of Achilles movie). The romance is on point, and there are many times you feel like you’re actually watching private moments between an English prince and the president’s son, violating their privacy. The music is great, and while some scenes feel obviously green-screened, others are still gorgeous to see.
What the book does very well is balance the political aspect of Alex’s dreams with his love for Henry. There are also a lot of historical references and sweet poetic exchanges via email between Alex and Henry that show off their personalities to us. Unfortunately, the film leaves the characters a little bit underdeveloped in the hope that the chemistry alone can save the film. The reason the film loses grip is that it sticks to the tropes and cliches of a regular romance movie without exploring the other aspects of Henry and Alex’s lives. In a way, it seems to consider its audience a little bit stupid. In terms of dialogue, some of it comes across as rather cringeworthy, while some of the rest is just ridiculous. There’s a particular soliloquy by Henry in the later half of the film about courage that hits the right spots.
As you can imagine, the plot draws obvious inspiration from a certain British prince and a certain American actress, and it becomes more obvious in the film, I suppose. Some of Henry’s dialogue feels straight-forward, like a stab at the crown. What the film lacks in substance, it kind of makes up for with banter. For some fans, all we need is a good argument between Henry and Alex that will be etched in their memory and quoted 100 times over on their new TikTok video. Others would want more if the themes like Alex’s immigrant background, Henry’s love for writing, and more further solidified this film.
Some iconic scenes from the book remain the same in the film and definitely seem to have been perfectly filmed with care and love. Others that have been changed and rewritten feel a little forced and unnecessary. But romance is still alive, and so is pure love, it seems, so who am I to say anything else? Given that many were skeptical of the casting choices of the film, I can assure you that that may as well be the best part of it. Red, White, and Royal Blue is not incredibly memorable or original; in fact, it’s littered with the same old kinks of romance that, at this point, everyone simultaneously adores and detests. I’d give Alex and Henry’s story about 2.8 out of 5 stars, with special points for the many dazzling smiles shared between Alex and Henry that are quite frankly every bit as important to the movie as good dialogue. Jokes aside, Red, White, and Royal Blue can be the film you watch when you’re sad to lighten your mood or bring you some hope and joy when you feel devoid of social energy.