“Red, White & Royal Blue” Is a Perfect Gay Rom-Com (With Bonus Rachel Maddow and Sarah Shahi)

After my initial Covid infection in March 2020, before Long Covid had a name, before I had any clue what kind of irreparable damage the virus had inflicted on my body, I lost my ability to read books. Now, of course, we know it’s not uncommon for people to develop neuro-cognitive issues after being infected with Covid, but all I knew was that one of the most important things in my life — reading stories and imprinting myself on a zillion characters traversing endless adventures — had been ripped away from me. I was bed-ridden and without my lifelong greatest comfort. I tried books written for middle schoolers. I tried books I’d read a dozen times before. I couldn’t hold the words in my head, I couldn’t follow them from page-to-page. I began spiraling, head-first, into a deep depression, when a dear friend of mine suggested Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue. I’d never read a queer romance novel before; I honestly didn’t even know queer romance stories really existed outside of fan fiction. But, after not being able to finish a single book in months, and worrying I’d never be able to do it again, I opened up RWRB and read it straight through.

Prime Video’s rom-com adaptation of the beloved novel lands today, and while it was obviously never going to be able to replicate the magic of McQuiston’s words for me, it sure did fill my gay heart with joy. For the uninitiated Red, White & Royal Blue follows the First Son of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, as he finds himself falling in love with Prince Henry of England. It’s classic enemies-to-lovers stuff, and classic fairy tale stuff too, but with way more canoodling and full-on sexy times.

Henry and Alex do an interview in Red, White, and Royal Blue

The two lads are forced together when the press picks up on the fact that they kind of hate each other, especially after they accidentally destroy a cake at a royal wedding. Press opportunities and state gatherings give way to text messages, then phone calls, then frantic secret making out all over the White House and various UK palaces, before they’re found out and forced to grapple with both their sexual identities and their feelings for each other. Alex is bisexual, Henry is “gay as a maypole” according to Henry himself. President Ellen Claremont is endlessly supportive of her son; the Royal Family, less so.

The film really holds true to the spirit of the book, especially the sweetness and sexiness of Alex and Henry, but, like all McQuiston’s brilliant novels, there’s no way so much beautiful plot and gloriously three-dimensional side characters can fit into a classic rom-com structure. It hits the high points, though it does have to accomplish a lot of that through montages. Taylor Zakhar Perez (Alex) and Nicholas Galitzine (Henry) are endlessly charming, and their chemistry carries so much of the movie. Plus, the movie packs plenty of punch with its supporting characters by casting big names like Uma Thurman as President Claremont.

Although, for me, the real star supporter is Sarah Shahi as Claremont’s Chief of Staff, Zahra Bankston. The scene where she finds out about Alex and Henry is one of my favorites in the whole movie. Plus, because so much of this story is about the political press, I am ecstatic to tell you we get special guests Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid reporting on Alex and Henry like they’re real people! A hoot! Also, it feels to me like McQuiston had to be at least somewhat involved in casting because trans Indian-American actress Aneesh Sheth plays Amy Gupta, Alex’s personal Secret Service agent, and queering every character in sight is kind of McQuiston’s thing.

Sarah Shahi in Red, White, and Royal Blue

If I had to complain about the screen adaptation, my main gripe would be, well, the green screens, which are everywhere. And the fact that the characters don’t have a whole lot of room to breathe as the film shuffles them quickly through the paces of the story to try to keep up with the book.

But you know what? I don’t actually want to complain about this movie just like I don’t want to complain about Heartstopper. The fact that these are gay stories getting very formulaic straight story treatments is actually pretty dang radical! Especially at this moment in time when so many gay and trans kids are facing so much persecution, much of it from the literal state itself, and we need as many Happily Ever Afters as we can get our hands on. That’s what allowed my brain to latch onto Red, White & Royal Blue, I think. The promise of a love that not only comes out victorious, but also hopes for forever. My brain knows that story better than any other because I’ve been chasing it in fiction my entire life, and because I found it in the real world. Red, White & Royal Blue told me a narrative I already knew, but in a way I’d never heard, and the comfort of that healed me in the way only stories can do.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. I had trouble with the liberal fantasy of it all – hard to swallow the Democratic Party or cool young monarchs as a force for good in this world, and Alex’s speech about going into politics to help people pissed me off – but otherwise really enjoyed the sweet and cheesy romance of it all. My favorite detail was how the sex scenes were filmed like typical lesbian ones! So much passionate hand holding and gentle back stroking, lol.

  2. Heather you’re always out here claiming the most unbearably boring paint-by-numbers assimilationist bullshit as a radical victory for queer culture and I think that shows a level of sunny optimism which is… almost admirable in the depressing times in which we live

    • If it’s “sunny optimism” to claw a little bit of hope and joy out of a story that helped me be able to literally read again while being bed-bound from post-viral illness and thinking my life and career were over, well, I guess I’m a sunny optimist? My psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder would be shocked to hear it, but probably a little proud, too, that my gratitude for the small happinesses in life is reading in such a big way.

      • OK fair enough, mea culpa, I don’t mean to be a total asshole about your own emotive relationship to the book and I genuinely hope things look up for you soon. But what I’m questioning is why your having personally enjoyed the book translates into the movie being politically radical, as you claim it is in this review? I enjoyed the book too, somewhat despite myself – it’s a really effective romance, McQuiston is great at character development, I don’t mind forgetting politics for the sake of a fun read now and then. That doesn’t mean I have to think the movie based on that book is anything other than lowest-common-denominator designed-by-committee assimilationist pandering. It can be entertaining assimilationist pandering, sure, but radical it is not!

        • I just feel like when the majority of Republican voters, a third of the country, are pushing Donald Trump to the front of the polls in 2023, while he is facing down three — soon to be four — felony indictments… this racist, homophobic, transphobic, xeonophobic authoritarian idiot who once suggested we should drink bleach and/or sunlight to cure covid… at the same time state legislatures are trying to ban any kind of books that would help LGBTQ kids figure stuff out, framing gays as pedophiles from the oldest propaganda playbook… and we get Uma Thurman as the president, sitting in the Oval Office, holding her Latino bisexual son in her arms, saying, “So are you gay, bi, pan, fluid, queer? Now, we didn’t go over this particular type of partnering when we were having the talk, which is on me for making assumptions. I just want to make sure you know you need to wear a condom if you’re having anal intercourse. We can talk about getting you on Truvada. And if you’re bottoming, you need an HPV vaccine”? In this glossy movie marketed as a classic rom-com and accessible to stream on Amazon? It might not be for you, but there’s no telling how many gay kids that’s going to reach or how many lives that’s going to change. I was parented by TV and I’m sure I’m not the only gay person that’s true for. So, yeah, this feels pretty damn radical to me. 

        • I did not especially like this book or this movie, but honestly? If there is even one queer kid who watches this movie and feels a little less alone, that is more valuable, and more radical, than any amount of more-progressive-than-thou griping from us adults.

      • I wonder how many others got sunshine and a handhold from this story. I did from the book and the movie is like a warm cookie all over again. Huge rush to see the characters brought to life.

        It was a shock to read your experience in finding the book. Mine ran in parallel. Sick at the start in 2020, devastated by long covid, couldn’t read (still can’t read physical books), even diagnosed with PTSD and depression as you were and so many others have been.

        I had no need of hard truths when my life already defied the definition of the word “hard.” The audiobook brought much needed escapism. (Highly recommend to anyone who wants to keep engaging with the story.) The genre as a whole un-crisised the internal crisis enough to keep healing and know the world as a safe(r) place. It feels good to realize many of us read it and are now watching it “together.”

        Thanks for sharing that part of its impact on you and giving visibility to post viral conditions. Wishing for more of this energy and sense of possibility for everyone, and health in your future as well.

  3. yeah i did just watch it and it did make me cry sappy tears to see them in love or whatever… but agree with pg and prof queermo- could NOT really handle the dem politics assimilationist whatever going on there

    i actually would rather have real radical gay movies than this

  4. I also finally found my way to Casey McQuiston (and later, rom(coms) in general) due to lingering Covid. (I don’t know if i’d call it Long, as i was full back at work five months after – but a full month off and four staggered IS long.)

    I’d been, frankly, pretentious about it before until my brain couldn’t handle literary fiction or new fantasy terms and my partner picked up One Last Stop from the library and it just felt like such a relief. Autostraddles coverage of romance novels has really expanded my readership of them post-(my)Covid!

    Anyway that’s all to say i’m excited to pop some popcorn and sit down with this! Maybe with a glass of wine so i forget to notice the green screens

  5. Former lurker, now first-time poster. Eeep!

    “…we need as many Happily Ever Afters as we can get our hands on.” While I definitely agree with this, the Hallmarkification of the source material is, for me, disappointing on a lot of levels. The choppy editing drove me bonkers. More egregious to me are the characterizations (or lack thereof) of the supporting cast. Here, they are little more than cheerleaders for Alex and Henry. They had rich, engaging plotlines in the book. That erasure left a *very* bitter taste in my mouth.

    Do we need queer ultra-cheesy rom-com movies? Absolutely. But do they need to come from distilled adaptations of vibrant, well-developed source materials?

    Also, the R-rating is utter bullshit (but the MPAA rating system is nonsense and another can of worms).

    • I also felt like the choppiness was distracting for me! I hadn’t read this book but I did read One Last Stop and so I have faith it wasn’t Casey’s writing that made the movie come off as a bit disjointed and/or too shallow.

      The depth of emotion in some scenes – particularly within Henry’s character – was so, so lovely. The big sex scene was a revolution for representation, certainly, and so tenderly treated. But from other parts of the movie, I was hungry for more.

      Was it the editing? The directing? That made some of the other scenes fall flat? I don’t know, but while I mostly enjoyed it I do wish it felt a little less Hallmark and a little more real.

      BUT I’m definitely inspired to read the book, now :) And I’m going to daydream about One Last Stop getting made into a movie someday!

      • It definitely wasn’t Casey’s writing. I’m SO jealous that you get to read it for the first time. There’s a lot more depth in the book that, for me, was lost in this adaptation.

        Based on the ratings of this film, I think there is little doubt that OLS will be made unless the author doesn’t want it to. I certainly hope they do but with a non-Amazon-related company!

  6. Thanks for writing this! I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to watching the movie. I don’t want to jump into the comments discourse too much here. But I do want to say. Every time I read or watch a queer story it feels revolutionary to me. That is not an exaggeration. I’ve known I was gay for 13 years, been out in some way for 10. And yet stories of queer love never fail to move me. Queer media was a lifeline for me when I was a closeted kid in high school and the feeling of wonder at seeing gay characters on tv had never left me. (I’m the type of gay who bawled her eyes out during Love, Simon just to give an idea) Thanks for capturing that feeling and putting it into words in your reviews here at AS.

  7. i didn’t enjoy this movie as an adaptation (of a book I liked) or as a movie, but i can appreciate that people got the happy endings they really want to see in a gay movie.

    that said, it does feel icky to see words like “radical” and “revolutionary” slapped onto a film that’s literally about two literal sons of the highest seats of their respective empires. or seeing it said about two main characters that are two extremely traditionally attractive cis dudes who have a relationship that follows some deeeeeeply heteronormative tropes even when it puts them in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe places even within the story. this was fluffy fanfic with the serial number scratched off, and its ok for it to be that.

    like, i’m sorry y’all, but words mean things and I don’t see how shoving gay people into the same oppressive molds of storytelling that straight people have been shoved into is in any way upending any oppressive system. it just feels like we’re slapping words on things we like to keep other people from criticizing them and making those words shallower and shallower because it hurts to have our people mock things we like.

    • I’ve been trying to sit with my mixed feelings about this movie. I enjoyed it, as someone who read the novel, even if it wasn’t a perfect adaptation. and I think we deserve fluffy romcoms and I do think it means something that it’s a mainstream movie.

      that being said, I agree with some of the other commenters that the politics were very hard to stomach. it is very much a liberal (not leftist) fantasy that upholds imperialism in multiple ways and it was hard to reconcile that with enjoying a fun romcom. this was a critique I had of the book too

      while I believe in voting, the Democratic party won’t save us and neither will wealthy royal gays and I felt like the book and movie both feel as though they can.

      so yeah, I enjoyed it and think we deserve fluffy happy movies AND I think we can and should critique imperialism and status quo politics

      we can and should have both critique and enjoyment!

      • “so yeah, I enjoyed it and think we deserve fluffy happy movies AND I think we can and should critique imperialism and status quo politics”

        This. Thank you for this comment. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts and you put it much better than anything I came up with.

  8. You summed up my feelings so beautifully- was the movie as rich and nuanced as the book? Not at all. Was it still mindblowing to see a glossy romcom about two boys- no subtext, no tortured self-hatred narrative, no doomed ending- just a regular old fluffy romcom but gay? YES. Is this the only kind of queer storytelling we need? Absolutely not. Am I still glad it exists? YES.

  9. Love this review Heather!!

    Both the movie and book are my problematic favs. The leads could not be more elite, a British prince probably *shouldn’t* be on stage as part of an election campaign and I find the banter cringe.

    That said I read the hell out of the book, loved the movie and the leads have real chemistry. As romantic and deeply silly as all rom-coms should be!

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