The Unicorn Scale: Red, White & Royal Blue

By Jennie Roberson

November 30, 2023



Well hey there, queer film aficionados! There's a particular experience shared by those who love queer films and are avid bookworms. Book lovers have been known since the birth of cinema to be both fervent fans and ardent critics of adaptations of their most beloved novels. Which can make a lot of sense! A lot of people will end up being so charmed by a film adaptation of a beloved story that they go to seek out the source material. But if an adaptation strays too far from the heart of its original story, it can leave a sour taste in the mouths of moviegoers and bookworms alike. People love to say “The book is better,” but when — as is so often the case — a queer character that gets a nuanced and heartfelt story in the pages gets straight-washed or diminished in its silver screen counterpart, it can amount to compounded heartbreak.

So when I say that the pressure was on for getting the adaptation of Red, White & Royal Blue (2019) from the bi bookworm populace, you can bet that that whole demographic was both deeply excited and on tenterhooks to see if the film did justice to their beloved characters. But did the flick succeed, or even surpass expectations? Read on to find out. 

Before I get too far into the weeds here, I should go over a few disclaimers. First and foremost, there will be SPOILERS for the film adaptation of Red, White & Royal Blue (2023) — and probably for the book, too. I should also give a content warning for discussions of death, and if you’re concerned there will be other triggers for you, you can double-check here. Finally, if this is your first time reading a Unicorn Scale (welcome!), you can learn all about it here.

Red, White & Royal Blue is an Amazon Prime romantic comedy movie. The story centers on Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the first female POTUS (Uma Thurman) who is forced to spend more time with England’s Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), a stuffy royal with whom he has had both difficult political relations as well as an embarrassing social incident that has taken over the international headlines. Forced to feign a friendship as a form of damage control, Alex is surprised when there is much more to Henry than he originally thought.

What I Liked:

Well first and foremost: How refreshing it is that I don’t have to quibble about any character using the word “bi”, as if it doesn’t exist? Alex eventually and proudly realizes his orientation and his family is about as goddamn supportive as it gets (including a happy-tear-inducing truth from Thurman’s character when Alex tells his mama). Seeing the main character embrace his queerness is such a beautiful thing to witness — and actually calling his spade the spade that he is keeps both characters and audiences alike from gaywashing him at any turn.

While there are indeed some really cheesy rom-com moments and tropes (particularly their silly meet cute that serves as the story engine), Galitzine and Zakhar Perez deliver some truly winning performances when the pressure was really on to give heartfelt characters that have become touchstones for both Gen Z and Millennial audiences alike. There wasn’t a moment I felt like anything was phoned in or not given its all — which I can say as a performer is particularly difficult to do in the rom-com genre, as it’s easy to fall off the knife’s edge into either schlock or knowing nods. This is particularly satisfying to see after we’ve recently seen Zakhar Perez’s charming himbo turn in the first season of another favorite bi piece, the first season of Minx (2022-).

Image/Amazon Prime

Other things I loved in no particular order because I’m just giddy with how this whole movie came together:

1) Some genuinely touching queer lovemaking scenes and visual adaptations and tableaus! I’m thinking particularly of how the writers and writer/director tackled the texting/flirtation chapters (maybe my favorite part of the book), a moment on the New Year’s Eve dance floor, and Alex and Henry’s first kiss. And their first big encounter in Paris belongs in the Tender Bi Lovemaking Scenes Hall of Fame.

2) Overall, as far as I can recall, this is a really faithful adaptation! Sure, some things got truncated and dovetailed into each other for the sake of brevity, but RWRB hits all the major beats that I remembered and adored from the book.

3) Bisexuality is a big part of Alex’s story, but it’s not his whole story or reason for existence in the narrative. Both author McQuiston and the screenwriters made sure to include his push to add Texas to the reelection campaign focus and underline both his charm and his flaws of often being boisterous or inappropriate.

4) It's a delightful tribute to feature Stephen Fry, one of the most prominent gay British actors and the writer-director of Wilde (1997), portraying the King of England. It's a charming and knowledgeable nod, made even more impressive by Fry's excellent performance.

Image/Amazon Prime

What I Didn't Like:

You know, it’s hard for me to really pin down if there were any elements I didn’t like outside of some production choices, but if I had to say anything, it may have to do with the treatment of the gay reporter who leaks Alex and Henry’s relationship to the press. I don’t really like to see any queer character as a villain, and besides, even with lofty ambitions, it’s really hard for me to swallow the idea of a queer person deliberately outing another queer person for professional gain in this format — even with some jealousy in play. As I recall, it was a junior senator who did that in the book, and it’s certainly easier for me to buy that move coming from a politician.

The Rating:

Despite some initially cheesy moments, the film is, to me, nothing short of a triumph — both of bi representation and successful adaptation of a queer character from page to stage. Bookworms and those new to the story should both be happy overall!

In short: when people ask me for good male bi representation, I very often would point them to the Red, White & Royal Blue novel. Looks like I can add the movie to that list of recs, too. Glad to see us get more happy endings that we richly deserve.

4 unicorn emojis.


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