Royal romances, in which a prince—or, in a pinch, a duke—falls in love with a member of the general public have a history that extends all the way back to Cinderella, and they remain as popular as ever among genre fans. Indeed, more are published each year, and streaming services continue to bolster the subgenre with popular TV movies. (Witness the phenomenon of Netflix’s 2017 smash, A Christmas Prince, in which the handsome European title character and an American magazine journalist improbably find love; it spawned two sequels over the next two years.) Casey McQuiston’s Kirkus-starred 2019 novel, Red, White & Royal Blue, continued this noble tradition with its tale of a romance between an English prince and the son of the U.S. president. A new Prime Video film adaptation premieres on Aug. 11.

In both the book and movie, Alex Claremont-Diaz, the 20-something offspring of President Ellen Claremont, initially loathes Prince Henry of England. Specifically, he thinks he’s a stuck-up snob—mostly because of a perceived slight years ago. The pair run into each other at a royal wedding, at which Alex has a bit too much to drink; they get into a mild tiff, which ends with the men accidentally destroying a $70,000 wedding cake. To repair the public-relations damage, the pair are forced to spend time in public together in England, pretending to be longtime pals and doing a bit of charity work at a local hospital; before long, their old animosity is forgotten and they hit it off quite well. After Alex returns home, they text each other regularly. Soon, Henry comes for a stateside visit, during which he impulsively seizes an opportunity to kiss Alex when they’re alone together. It turns out that they’ve had crushes on each other for years; Henry is gay, but closeted, and Alex realizes that he’s bisexual. They keep their relationship a secret, at first, but as President Claremont’s re-election campaign ramps up, the pair face big decisions about their future.

The romance novel features some creaky genre tropes that some may find wearisome; why must lovers always hate each other at first? Is it a Pride and Prejudice thing?  Mercifully, McQuiston disposes of this setup rather quickly and establishes Alex and Henry as quick-witted, genuinely funny people; their mutual attraction feels genuine. However, many of the book’s scenes—at Wimbledon, at a karaoke bar—feel like excuses to get the pair together to make out, have sex, and talk endlessly to each other about their past sorrows and current hopes and dreams.

Unfortunately, neither of the main characters comes across as particularly complex. For example, Alex’s “whole reason for wanting to go into politics…is he genuinely cares about people,” but this doesn’t translate into any concrete action; it’s hard, for example, to imagine the snarky character being useful at a soup kitchen. He’s also said to be “hopeless at moderating his feelings, which he usually hides under ten layers of charm”; that’s an awful lot of charm layers. Meanwhile, Henry wishes that he was just an anonymous regular bloke, so he could follow his dream of becoming a writer; instead, he’s a member of a fabulously wealthy and internationally famous family, the poor guy. It’s made clear that he doesn’t want any of the royal wealth, which he considers “the spoils of, you know, centuries of genocide”—while, of course, still living in a palace funded by those very spoils. At least both characters are incredibly good-looking, as McQuiston reminds readers repeatedly: “And there Henry is, in the flesh, as classically handsome as ever in his tailored three-piece suit, all tousled sandy hair and high cheekbones and a soft, friendly mouth.”

To be fair, the novel clearly takes place in a fantasy world. As Kirkus’ reviewer pointed out, it’s one “in which a divorced-mom Texan Democrat won the 2016 election.” The movie version takes things a step further by strongly implying that the wildly inexperienced Alex has somehow figured out how to win Texas for the Democrats in a presidential election—a problem that has, of course, bedeviled the Democratic Party since 1976.

Still, the movie, which stars The Kissing Booth 3’s Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex and Purple Hearts’ Nicholas Galitzine as Henry, makes other welcome changes that streamline the story. For one, it eliminates Alex’s sister, June, and a tiresome subplot about how she finds it so hard to be the president’s daughter because it’s adversely affecting her journalism career. The adaptation also replaces the book’s rather boring queen of England with the great Stephen Fry as the king. (It’s just a brief appearance, but he’s clearly enjoying himself.) In addition, it excises an odd storyline about an independent U.S. senator joining the Republican presidential ticket, which felt as if drifted in from another novel entirely. Smartly, Tony Award–winning director and co-writer Matthew López keeps the focus on Alex and Henry; however, he also cuts most of the characters’ numerous texts and emails, which make up the bulk of their relationship in the book. Perhaps this is understandable, as text isn’t particularly movie-friendly, but it makes their journey from flirtatious joshing to declarations of love feel curiously hollow. The couple’s chemistry, too, is often unconvincing, which may be due, in part, to Galitzine’s steadfastly bland performance—especially compared to Perez, who’s a bundle of energy.

Nonetheless, there’s some inspired casting choices. In addition to Fry, there’s Person of Interest’s Sarah Shahi, who’s quite funny as the perpetually exasperated Deputy Chief of Staff Zahra Bankston, and Uma Thurman as President Ellen Claremont, who—despite an ill-advised Southern accent—is quite convincing as a career politician. One only wishes that its romance was as memorable.

David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.