"Red, White and Royally Blue": A Royal Critique
I read “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston for the first time the summer before I started college. I couldn’t put it down and it quickly became one of my favorite rom-com books. RWRB explores the romantic relationship between Alex Claremont-Diaz, the first son of the United States, and the Prince of England Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor — yes, that is really his name. As two of the world’s most prominent political figures, Alex and Henry must balance their growing love for each other with their responsibilities to their countries. Although there are many reasons to love “Red, White & Royal Blue,” some of my favorite aspects include the adorable emails that the two main characters exchange, the development of sibling relationships, and the mandatory happy ending that all good, fun rom-coms must have.
When I learned that a movie adaptation was being released, I knew in my heart that the movie could never do justice to the book. However, as I watched the movie, I was stunned by just how horrible the adaptation was. I found myself aggressively pointing at the screen, absolutely appalled by all the mischaracterizations, inaccuracies, and plot discrepancies. I am cognizant of the fact that I was probably always going to hate the movie adaptation since I loved the book so much, but it was so much worse than I ever could have ever imagined.
There were countless aspects of the “Red, White & Royal Blue” movie adaptation that I hated, but one of the most infuriating ones was the mischaracterization and omission of many of the crucial characters, but I want to talk about June, Zahra, and Ellen in particular.
Where is June?
I think the most obvious character omission was Alex’s sister, June. With the erasure of June, the movie missed out on the heartwarming dynamic between Alex, June, and Nora. Alex and June are the children of President Ellen Claremont. Nora is the granddaughter of the vice president. Together, they make up the “White House Trio.” The three are best friends and their interactions bring levity and a sense of innocence to the book. Nora, Alex, and June are under increasing pressure throughout the book as they work on President Claremont’s reelection campaign and navigate being in the public eye. Their casual, relatable interactions are important, because they show that they are simply everyday young adults trying to figure out what to do in their lives. By omitting June, the movie loses this relatability and friendship dynamic that the three characters represented. In the book, June and Alex have such a relatable, loving brother-sister relationship and the movie decided to completely get rid of it. By failing to portray this relationship in the movie, we lose a lot of Alex’s childhood. I think the moment that I literally jumped out of my seat in indignation was when Alex found tabloids randomly lying in a hallway in the White House. I understand that the movie wanted to include the role of tabloid magazines to stay true to the book, but it misses the entire point of the magazines. In the first few pages of the novel, we see June and Alex bond over the ridiculous things the magazines write about them. This is a fun thing that the two of them do together, but the silly pastime transforms into a more serious moment between the two siblings when Alex comes out to June as bisexual.
It’s mentioned earlier in the book that Alex would sneak into June’s room when he was younger and look at a specific magazine with Henry’s picture in it. When June confronts Alex about why he hasn’t shared his relationship with Henry with her, she ends up throwing the old magazine at him, indicating she knows he was snooping all along and that Henry was more than just a crush. June knew that Alex was romantically involved with Henry, but it was sisterly love that caused her to confront Alex. Ultimately, she just wants Alex to be happy, and she’s worried that jumping straight into politics after college wouldn’t make him happy. She wants Alex to consider the importance of his relationship with Henry and understand there are other options besides politics. She says, “Alex, you don’t have to wonder. You don’t have to be our parents. You can keep Henry.” June isn’t saying Alex should abandon his ambitions, but she wants him to know that he doesn’t have to compromise in life like their parents did — that he can reach his goals in multiple different ways.
This is such an emotional moment in the book and it’s a culmination of all the love in their brother-sister relationship. June is doing what older siblings do; she was looking out for her younger brother — always having his best interest at heart. I was so excited to see this scene play out on screen, but it was completely erased. In this moment, we understand the struggles Alex is going through as he navigates what to do after college life, but he always has June by his side to support and advise him. Practically all of June and Alex’s playful bickering reminded me of the relationship I have with my brothers, and it brought me a lot of joy to read about Alex and June’s brother-sister relationship, so I was extremely disappointed when June was left out.
That’s not the Zahra I know and love
Zahra is Ellen Claremont’s deputy chief of staff. In the book, Zahra is incredibly sarcastic, but she carries herself with an air of professionalism. She’s efficient and competent at her job, but there’s also determination and fire in her. This manifests in all the interactions she has with Alex. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, Zahra is tasked with waking Alex up after he had spent the night with Henry at the Democratic National Convention. As Alex and Henry are both scrambling to get out of bed, Zahra bangs on the door, adamantly yelling that Alex has a meeting to get to. When Alex finally opens the door Zahra is “standing there with her thermos and a look on her face that says she did not get a master’s degree to babysit a fully grown adult who happens to be related to the president.” There are so many things I love about this description, partly because it perfectly encapsulates who Zahra is as a character. Zahra is a highly educated, ambitious woman working for the President of the United States — of course she has a thermos. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, but she is cool and collected in many cases.
However, the portrayal of Zahra in the movie is completely wrong. I understand that June’s absence from the movie was a big deal and did a lot to disrupt the emotional backbone of the book, but I was also so amazingly upset about the mischaracterization of Zahra. In the movie, all the amazing parts of Zahra’s character are missing. The very first scene that Zahra was in, I was immediately shaking my head at the, shocked at the inaccuracy of it all. Zahra makes her first appearance after “cakegate,” where Alex and Henry ruin the cake at the Royal Wedding. Zahra’s reaction to this was to chase Alex around the Oval Office and throw a pillow at him. The Zahra in the book would never do that. As mentioned previously, Zahra is sarcastic and her disapproval comes in the form of cutting words, not anger filled throwings of pillows. In the book, this scene between Alex and Zahra is held at a boardroom table, and she chastises Alex with words, not actions. This shows Zahra’s professional but firm demeanor as she efficiently does her job. The movie completely destroys Zahra’s character. I nearly stopped watching. I was so annoyed.
Finally, there’s Ellen Claremont: the first female President of the United States in the “Red, White & Royal Blue” universe. The mischaracterization of Ellen began in the same scene where Zahra throws the pillow at Alex’s head, but I was just heartbroken that Ellen was not accurately portrayed in the movie. Ellen is a badass — simple as that. She is the president, serving the country with dignity and grace. Not to mention she’s balancing being a parent in the public eye. These are goliath- level tasks and she doesn’t always get it right, but that’s kind of the point. No one should expect her to be perfect. She doesn’t have all the answers even though the press may want her to, but she does everything in her power to serve her country and be the best mom she can be. In many ways, Ellen reminds me a lot of my own mom who is always balancing being a mom, and running her own law firm; she always strives to be the best mom and lawyer that she can be. I have so much respect and admiration for her. I think this is why I really like Ellen’s character, because she reminds me of my mother’s dedication and loving actions. I think it’s really important to show realistic depictions of working moms, and this is why Ellen is the best character in the book.
One of the scenes that Ellen shines the most is when she talks to Alex after all his emails with Henry are leaked to the press. Firstly, Ellen kicks everyone out of the meeting room, disrupting everything so she can talk to her son. The very first thing she says to Alex is, “Are you ok?’” As Alex puts it, “The president stands on the edge of a career-ending scandal, measures her breaths evenly, and waits for her son to answer.” This is a situation that has no right answer and all Ellen can do is assess her options and make a decision. Ellen perfectly embodies the challenges that many women face as they are expected to be perfect mothers and also have a career. This is an impossible task, but Ellen is firm in her resolve: “‘You listen to me,” she says. Her jaw is set, ironclad. It’s the game face he’s seen her use to stare down Congress, to cow autocrats.” Ellen is decisive in her support of Alex, and she is dedicated in everything she does — whether it’s being the president or a mom. No matter what her decision is in this impossible situation, her dedication is admirable, and I don’t think I’ve ever respected a fictional character more.
Now, the movie butchers all of this. I don’t have words to describe how poorly the movie portrays Ellen. It misses all the nuances and complexities of Ellen’s character, and I was literally screaming at my computer screen. I think the best representation of this is the difference between her acceptance speech in the book vs. the movie. The last lines in her speech in the book are, “My family. Your First Family. We intend to do everything we can, for the next four years and the years beyond, to continue making you proud.” Ellen takes such pride in her work and her family; all she has ever wanted is to do the best she can for her country and her children. In the movie, she doesn’t even mention her family in the speech. I have nothing against the content of the speech, but it misses an entire part of Ellen’s identity. The speech in the book made me cry, but the speech in the movie missed the mark by miles.
Let’s talk about badass women
The book is filled with so many incredible, ambitious, and loving women. June leads the communications side of Ellen’s reelection campaign and does so with the same dedication that her mother shows in her life. June attempts to find her role in her political family as an aspiring journalist, and she is passionate about her goals. Nora is going into law school and uses her talent of data analysis to help those she loves and cares for. Much like Ellen, Zahra aspires to be the best version of herself at her job. Ellen is literally the President of the United States. RWRB, of course, addresses sexual orientation and identity, and I think the movie does an OK job of representing this; it really shows the personal struggles that Henry and Alex face as their relationship develops and becomes public. However, the book also explores gender, particularly by including many strong women. The movie completely misses this part of the book. In essence, “Red, White & Royal Blue” is about finding one’s identity within America as we follow Henry, Alex, June, and Nora. They take pride in their country and believe that America can support their passions and identities. However, in the movie, there is almost no discussion on gender. This was so frustrating to me and I felt that it removed one of the main emotional cores of the book.
I would never recommend this movie by saying that it was good or accurate to the book. There are countless inaccuracies, omissions, and plot changes that make this a terrible adaptation of “Red, White & Royal Blue.” With that being said, if you are a person who loved the book like I did, there is something entertaining about making fun of the movie. So, if you’re a fan and in the mood to tear a movie to pieces, then I would suggest watching this movie.