Deeply adored by queer folks and popularised by Booktok, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue (2019) remains among the first few books to be spotted by anyone entering a fancy bookstore these days — which, in my case, was Bahrisons in Khan Market. Like most intellectuals who try their best to avoid Booktok — particularly because of how much it has contributed towards the glorification of problematic writers like Colleen Hoover — I too abstained from reading RWRB for a really long time until I could not anymore. However, when I, with extremely low expectations, began skimming through the first chapter, with each page, I fell in love with the book. So, when Amazon Prime announced that they had started filming the cinematic adaptation of RWRB with Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in the 2 leads, I was excited and overjoyed beyond words.
Nevertheless, as is the case with most adaptations, the film disappointed me quite a bit. Here are a few questions I had while watching it:
Why did they kill June — why did we not get the White House Trio?
Alex’ sister, June, is one of the most iconic characters in the book — she is witty, headstrong, and that sassy person we all want as our sibling. Right from the first chapter in which she walks into her brother’s room with a magazine in her hand to laugh about how their lives are being reported about by the tabloids, we know that June is not like any other side character in most Young Adult Fiction and Rom-Com novels. Plus, without her, the White House Trio — consisting of her, Alex, and the United States of America’s Vice President’s granddaughter, Nora — does not exist. Keeping that in mind, removing her character from the film adaptation meant rupturing the soul of the story.
Could they have worked more on fleshing out Alex and Henry’s characters?
I have to admit that the characterisation of Alex and Henry in the book did make my neuroqueer self feel insecure — how can two neurotypical queer men from affluent backgrounds be physically attractive overachievers who, in short, have it all? Even though there is some discussion about Alex having ADHD, he still graduates summa cum laude from Georgetown University and is said to have co-captained his high school’s lacrosse team alongside being the student body president, the class valedictorian, and the prom king. Prince Henry, on the other hand, happens to be a literature nerd in addition to being a member of the British Royal Family. However, neither of these personality traits of the two protagonists were properly developed and brought out in the film.
Was there a need to rush through all the events in the book?
Apart from the polo match sequence, almost all of the events and scenes seemed rushed, as if to include as much from the book as possible without fleshing anything out. While Alex and Henry were supposed to gradually fall in love, the squeezing in of everything into just 120 minutes makes it difficult to understand what is leading to what in the film. Why could the makers not dedicate more time to their email exchanges which remain so central to the overall narrative? And why could the film not be a little longer?
Where did the hilarity and the romantic chemistry disappear?
With June’s character being completely absent, Nora’s character not being expanded upon, and Alex not remaining his absolute hilarious self, the film, very sadly, did not have the same spark as the book. The lack of depth was particularly reflected in the romantic chemistry one would expect Alex and Henry to have. The two are attractive, no doubt! However, more than being two lovable fictional characters the audience would want to emotionally connect with, Alex and Henry, onscreen, just become two eye-candies.
Would I say it was worth watching?
In spite of all the aforementioned flaws, I would say that RWRB is worth watching, even if it is just to drool over the sexual energy between Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine. Their story might not be as magical as Alex and Henry’s was in the book, but if Potterheads and Twihards could make peace with the film adaptations of their beloved novels, so can RWRB stans.