Adapting books to the big screen is not new. Many Hollywood blockbusters came from an original novel. Many times it works. Sometimes it fails pretty badly. And sometimes you get something that is somewhat good but can’t snag that elusive gold ring.
As romantic comedies go, this one is pretty basic. The adult child of the President of the United States cannot tolerate a member of the British Royal Family. However, after a publicly disastrous encounter involving a 7-tier wedding cake, the two are forced to spend time together to smooth public relations and help the President win re-election. Naturally, the enemies become friends and then become romantically involved. It’s practically the stuff of romance novels! Only in this case, the President is Ellen Claremont, the child is Alex Claremont-Diaz, and the member of the Royal Family is Prince Henry, the grandson of King James of England. Yes, for those who don’t know, this is a LGBTQ romantic comedy.
If you’re interested in the details of the story, there is always my review of the original novel by Casey McQuiston. However, because this is a feature film, the original book wasn’t just adapted. It was heavily condensed and, in some cases, radically altered. Not only were there important scenes that show how the relationship between Alex and Henry is developing wholly removed but there were also secondary characters who saw their roles trimmed to merely a few lines, while others were totally removed. Unfortunately, cutting those characters made the development of Alex’s and Henry’s relationship a bit rushed in places. Henry’s sister, Beatrice, plays an integral part throughout the original story in helping Alex better understand Henry and is central to Henry being able to stand up for himself during a critical meeting with (in the book) his grandmother, the Queen. Then there is Alex’s missing sister, June. She plays a huge role throughout the book in helping Alex understand himself, but some of her lines are instead given to his best friend, Nora (the daughter of the VP in the book, but that’s not emphasized so much in the movie). Alex’s step-father is missing, and instead, we see the President still happily married to her first husband, Oscar Diaz, who is not only the First Gentleman but also a US Senator from Texas (California in the book).
Now that I’ve noted all of these changes, the real question is, does any of this matter? In short, not really. This story is about Alex and Henry, and while there are some peculiar literary changes in the movie, the spirit of this story is intact. The packaging may look different, but when opening it up, it has much of the same funny and romantic beats that are the core of the novel, especially during a late scene in the movie when Henry learns of the love and support he carries from the British people. While differing from the book, the impact was still soundly felt as we see Henry and Alex being cheered on outside Buckingham Palace. Other significant moments between Alex and Henry are still there in some form or another. These moments make up the heartbeat of this story, and they are still compelling.
The cast for Red, White & Royal Blue is largely pretty solid, starting with our two leading men, Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex and Nicholas Galitzine as Henry. Admittedly, while I didn’t picture either of these men after reading this book (I usually read it every year), these two amazing actors were so strong in these roles that I can’t see anyone else playing them. Each one carried just the right subtle idiosyncrasies that made them perfectly believable as the First Son and the grandson of the King. However, when the story calls for each one to go through his own private heartbreak, they were both able to deliver the goods that make their scenes shine!
The next significant role is that of President Claremont, played by Uma Thurman. I was quite excited to hear that Thurman would be playing this role, but I walked away with a slight sense of disappointment. Screenwriters Ted Malawer and Matthew López (who also directed) changed her character so that she was a bit more snarky and even unpleasant at times. McQuiston wrote President Claremont as both comical and politically savvy. She had some great lines in the book that were traded for lines that were not always funny and sometimes even cringe-worthy. Going with some of McQuiston’s original dialogue would not have affected the movie’s length, so I have to question the wisdom in the lines that Thurman had to deliver. Then there is Clifton Collins Jr. as Oscar Diaz. I like this actor. I’ve seen him in a number of different projects, and he has always been very strong in each role, but his part here is greatly reduced, made even more puzzling by the fact that Oscar is still supposed to be married to the President.
Lastly, in a move that might be considered stunt-casting, the role of King James was given to the highly respected actor Stephen Fry. I’m a big fan of Fry, so I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that he would be playing the part of the King, but again, much of the Queen’s acidic quality that was present in the novel was not on display here. His lines were fine, and Fry did an admirable job of delivering them, but at no time did I sense that abusive oppressiveness that Henry is supposed to be suffering from. The book’s Queen Mary is simply mean, but all we get is an excellent performance by Fry playing a cranky and over-protective grandfather.
I also need to address some of the technical failings of this movie. In order to compress a full-length novel into a 2-hour film, not only were scenes from the book highly compressed, the editing sometimes gave the feeling of scenes being smashed together. Instead of a story that flowed evenly from one scene to the next, we were given moments that were so jerky it almost felt as if the story was about to stall (imagine “popping the clutch” in a car). Also, despite the strong performance by Perez as Alex, he had two scenes where the energy just dropped out from underneath him, and in both cases, they involved speaking to a large group of people. The supposed energy of the room he was speaking in was far greater than the energy he was projecting. If that had really happened as portrayed on the screen, Alex would have been eaten alive by the crowd. Those scenes seriously took me out of my movie-watching experience.
I seriously loved the book Red, White & Royal Blue. I had high hopes for this movie, but it couldn’t fully deliver. I maintain that it should have been told in at least a 6-hour miniseries, but that pesky little thing called a “budget” forced the producer (Greg Berlanti) to stick with the movie format. Aside from that, Red, White & Royal Blue is not a bad movie. I would even go so far as to say it’s a good movie. In fact, it should have been a great movie. Sadly, it wasn’t.
I give Red, White & Royal Blue 3.5 out of 5 Crowns.
Official Website: Amazon.com: Red, White & Royal Blue : Nicholas Galitzine, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Uma Thurman, Matthew López, Ted Malawer, Matthew López, Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter: Prime Video
Instagram: Red, White & Royal Blue on Prime Video (@rwrbonprime) • Instagram photos and videos
Red, White & Royal Blue
Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the President of the United States, and Britain’s Prince Henry have a lot in common: stunning good looks, undeniable charisma, international popularity…and a total disdain for each other. Separated by an ocean, their long-running feud hasn’t really been an issue, until a disastrous—and very public—altercation at a royal event becomes tabloid fodder, driving a potential wedge in U.S./British relations at the worst possible time. Going into damage-control mode, their families and handlers force the two rivals into a staged “truce.” But as Alex and Henry’s icy relationship unexpectedly begins to thaw into a tentative friendship, the friction that existed between them sparks something deeper than they ever expected.
Based on Casey McQuiston’s critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE marks the feature film writing and directing debut of Tony Award-winning playwright Matthew López (THE INHERITANCE).
RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE launches on Prime Video on August 11, 2023.
ONE-LINER: Love gets royally complicated.