Read, white & royal blue

I grew up with a very strict set of rules in the house: don’t play on the stairs, sit down while eating, don’t talk to Mom when the car is in reverse, and always read the book before you watch the movie. From “Harry Potter,” to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” I had to finish the book before I started the movie. I’ve been through it all. The “that is NOT what he looked like,” the “I cannot believe they took that out,” and even sometimes the “maybe the movie version is better?”

As a writer, I can attest that screenwriting or playwriting is completely different from novel writing. In “Pride and Prejudice,” for example, you really must read Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth. On the other hand, few words can do justice to an epic battle between Iron Man and Ultron. Translating the depth of literature into fi lm, capturing every character, setting, and scene accurately, is nearly impossible. This is why I was so curious to compare the book and movie versions of “Red, White & Royal Blue.”

Last summer, Prime Video announced that the movie adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s 2019 novel “Red, White & Royal Blue” would be released the coming August. It broke the internet. “Red, White & Royal Blue” is a well-known, beloved novel by an equally beloved author. Featuring Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry and Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz, the movie’s premiere got a ton of publicity. Prime Video reported a significant subscriber increase in anticipation of the film.

Before the adaptation’s release, I checked “Red, White & Royal Blue” out of the Cambridge Public Library to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take long. I finished it in a week and a half, flying through chapters, laughing out loud, gasping in suspense, and nearing tears at the end. The quippy dialogue and vivid descriptions made the book come alive. Everything felt real something that not all books and movies achieve, making them less appealing to me. However, the characters in “Red, White & Royal Blue” felt like they were really in love. I quickly fell into a frenzy of fans obsessed with the cake scene and Nora’s sass. I was one of many excitedly awaiting the movie’s release at the beginning of August.

I found the movie fantastic. It was bright and colorful but also deep and genuine. The music choices were perfect, the dialogue was fast and clever, and everything felt real. However, there were changes between the book and the movie, some big and some small.

The most significant difference, in my opinion, was the fact that in the movie, Alex’s mother doesn’t ask him to leave her presidential campaign after coming out as she does in the book. This was a pivotal moment for Alex, as it was one of his first experiences facing consequences for having a public identity. I think the main inconsistency it creates is that movie-Alex, who receives a lot of support for coming out, doesn’t have as much to lose as Henry, creating an unequal balance in their relationship. Henry’s anger toward Alex stems from Henry’s belief that Alex has an easier life as a queer person. Alex is able to continue the work he loves, whereas Henry goes into hiding from his country and his family.

Readers also voiced significant disappointment over the absence of June, Alex’s sister, in the fi lm adaptation. June helped Alex come out and was a strong and sweet figure in his life. As an older sister myself, I know how vital and irreplaceable we are, and June’s absence was noticeable. However, I think Alex gives enough only-child energy that it didn’t entirely derail his character in the movie, especially as Nora, another sisterly figure, delivered most of June’s key lines.

A standout element of the movie was its soundtrack. The opening credits played to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” and the Irish folk song “Tu Bardh” soundtracked the infamous polo scene. The best part of both the book and the movie was the museum scene. It was genuine and loving without being sappy or overdramatic. In storytelling, overemphasizing love can make it less genuine. But everything about the setting, the music, and the moment showcased the characters’ struggle, love, and resilience.

As funny and clever as “Red, White & Royal Blue” might be, it is a story of bravery and love, two themes I think that are worth emphasizing right now. Regardless of character cuts and plot gaps, both the movie and book showcase these themes extremely well. As we enter the messy political climate of an election year, much like in the novel, we can learn from Alex and Henry how to prioritize the people you love while also staying true to yourself.

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