Jan 13, 2024

'Red, White & Royal Blue' review: A sexy gay romance that will make you swoon

Of all the rom-com tropes, there is none more satisfying than enemies-to-lovers. It’s a delicious kind of tension that builds over petty banter and stolen glances. Such is the case for First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz and HRH Prince Henry, the stately studs at the center of Amazon Prime Video’s movie Red, White & Royal Blue. They hate each other, they love each other, and they can’t keep their perfectly manicured and moisturized hands off each other — in the words of the Extremely Online, we’re so back.

In this unabashedly gay rom-com adapted from Casey McQuiston’s novel of the same name, a swoon-worthy romance blossoms between the president’s reckless son and the imperial spare following a staged media friendship. The palpable push-and-pull between love and royal duty anchors the film (names like Diana, Harry, and Meghan might come to mind), but what keeps it entertaining is that it leans into the genre’s inherent corniness, thanks to director Matthew López’s mastery of elevated Hallmark (affectionate).

I mean this in the best way possible: If you often find yourself scrolling through the fanfiction site Archive of Our Own before bed, then Red, White & Royal Blue will make you feel things. In AO3 terms, it’s "enemies to lovers," "boys in love," "bad at feelings," and "royalty AU." If those tags speak to you, or if you’re in serious need of a feel-good rom-com, then here’s why you should add Red, White & Royal Blue to your weekend watch list.

As Alex Claremont-Diaz, Perez embodies the slickness of sandpaper. We are told that Alex is a bit of a wild child, the kind of guy who gets drunk at a royal wedding and causes a geopolitical headache for his mom, the President of the United States (Uma Thurman, sporting the twangiest of twangs). Every year he hosts a New Year’s rager on White House grounds. But his most off-putting personality trait is that he’s a bit of a music snob (his love of Bad Bunny is valid).

The truth is Alex is a Soft Boy. He’s golden-hearted! He has messy emotions. An optimist who believes politics can positively impact marginalized communities! He wears the key to his childhood home in Texas around his neck so he never forgets where he came from! He’s the proud son of working-class parents (Clifton Collins Jr. plays his Senator father, Oscar). This is not Chuck Bass. He’s smart, ambitious, and passionate about what — and who — he believes in.

And Perez, with his wispy eyelashes and mega-watt charisma, makes Alex easy to root for, especially as he falls in love with Henry, someone who, on paper, is his complete opposite. Composed, self-serious, and careful with his words, Prince Henry exhibits a level of restraint solely reserved for British people and Olympians. But that’s also what makes their chemistry so incendiary. There’s an instant spark between Alex and Henry that wouldn’t work if Perez and Galitzine weren’t so damn charming together.

Galitzine, with his chiseled jawline, leans into Henry’s vulnerability. The character is “literally entitled” — he’s not the heir to the throne, but still no. 2 in line — a royal rich kid who spent his formative years in a haughty boarding school, yet there’s a softness to Galitzine’s portrayal. He’s buckling under the weight of the crown and his sexuality. And these clandestine hook-ups with Alex across the Atlantic are saving him and eating him alive in equal measure. Truthfully, it’s hard to feel bad for a royal, fictional or otherwise, but Henry is too pretty to be sad.

The banter between Alex and Henry is at times reminiscent of studio comedies from a bygone era (Perez does his best Cary Grant), yet the exchanges are pointedly 2023. In one scene, Henry says Alex smells like Le Labo Santal 33 — a comment that could read as either a personal dig or an attempt at flirting. By the time the two get intimate for the first time in the White House, it feels more than earned. (Also, it should be said that these sex scenes are actually sexy.)

In real life, the stakes of this story would be insurmountable. A queer love affair between the President’s son and the Prince of England would likely incentivize bigots to spew even more hate and vitriol. But in the world of Red, White & Royal Blue, there’s nothing that a waltz around a museum at midnight or a sentimental speech on the campaign trail can’t fix. And that’s honestly kind of perfect.

Oftentimes, Alex and Henry feel like characters in a shōjo manga, or Japanese comics targeted toward teenage girls. These are stories that emphasize romance and intimacy, starring beautiful men depicted through the female gaze — soft, gentle, and emotionally intelligent.

Red, White & Royal Blue never lets you forget that you are, essentially, watching a modern fairy tale where love conquers all, even self-doubt and fear of the unknown. It doesn’t minimize the queer experience; Henry and Alex still go through their respective journeys of self-discovery, and not every character is as open-minded as Alex’s parents and best friend Nora (Rachel Hilson, firing off memorable one-liners as the VP’s daughter) — the British monarchy is unsurprisingly not as keen to have a gay royal representing the Crown. Instead, every obstacle leads to a moment of hope.

When Henry and Alex are outed by an overzealous political journalist, they think of each other and their feelings first, not what the outside world thinks. What a lovely thing to be reminded of. Of course, this is also a film that ends with a celebration outside of Buckingham Palace and an honest-to-god shooting star.

It’s so ridiculous and yet feels like the picture-perfect storybook ending to this romance, a "happily after all" typically reserved for straight characters. In Red, White & Royal Blue, love feels a little transcendent — and the schmaltz is just the icing on the $75,000 royal wedding cake.

TopicsAmazon Prime Video

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine's sizzling chemistryIt’s a celebration of queer joy