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Red, White & Royal Blue and Euphoria Collide in Netflix's Young Royals

The Swedish drama delivers a much darker take on a queer palace romance.
  • Edvin Ryding and Omar Rudberg in Young Royals (Photo: Netflix/Johan Paulin)
    Edvin Ryding and Omar Rudberg in Young Royals (Photo: Netflix/Johan Paulin)

    Matters of the heart are difficult enough, but when they become matters of state, everything gets more complicated. That's the theme (and the tagline) of Prime Video's Red, White & Royal Blue, in which Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the President of the United States, and Britain's Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) form a surprising connection after they're forced together as part of a geopolitical PR stunt. As Alex and Henry grow closer, they begin to chafe against the restrictions of their respective worlds and the expectations placed upon them by their families, their armies of handlers, and the public.

    Matthew López's film adaptation of Casey McQuiston's bestselling novel runs just shy of two hours, but the thrill of a queer palace romance doesn't have to end when the final credits roll. Enter Netflix's Young Royals, a Swedish drama about the tumultuous relationship between Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) and schoolmate Simon (Omar Rudberg). Like Red, White & Royal Blue, Young Royals raises questions about the limits of duty and the conservative values that drive our institutions, but the Netflix series does so through a much darker lens.

    As Young Royals begins, teenage Prince Wilhelm faces a public crisis of his own: After the "baby prince" gets into a brawl at a nightclub, his mother, Queen Kristina of Sweden (Pernilla August), attempts to do damage control by sending him to a rigorous boarding school, Hillerska. Wilhelm sulks through his first few days, but when he meets day student Simon, he warms to his new community. While the other students see Wilhelm as their ticket to power, Simon wants nothing from the prince — in fact, he's openly critical of the monarchy — and he's willing to be honest with him in a way no one else is. It doesn't take long for the boys' friendship to blossom into something more, but they spend much of Season 1 fretting over their feelings and the reality of Wilhelm's life in the public eye.

    At first, Wilhelm and Simon pursue their relationship in secret, stealing kisses in the hallway and hanging out at Simon's home in the town near Hillerska, but when Wilhelm is reminded of his royal obligations, he pushes his boyfriend away. The queen's lectures about being a "role model" for the country's youth, reinforced by constant calls from palace aides checking up on him, live rent-free in his head, creating a dilemma for a teenager who feels the life he's been given and the one he really wants are mutually exclusive.

    But while this fatalistic attitude crops up throughout the first two seasons, co-creator Lisa Ambjörn doesn't allow it to prevail. Through Simon, Wilhelm comes to realize that just as he has a responsibility to Sweden, he has a responsibility to be true to himself, and in the Season 2 finale, he takes steps to rectify one of the regrettable decisions he made as a result of his mother's influence.

    If Red, White & Royal Blue takes a more lighthearted, romantic comedy approach to its characters' inner turmoil — the inciting incident is dubbed the the "Buttercream Summit," setting the tone for the confection to come — Young Royals goes the opposite route, adopting a Euphoria-inspired style as the teens of Hillerska hook up, party, and lie to one another. Much of the action takes place in the school's dark corridors or in the woods outside illicit parties, while thumping pop music serves as an appropriate soundtrack to the debauchery. And though Ryding and Rudberg sell Wilhelm and Simon's relationship with their easy chemistry, their story takes a grim turn when Wilhelm's deceitful cousin August (Malte Gårdinger) illegally distributes a video of the lovers having sex. August's betrayal drives Season 2, and the fallout only increases the burden on Wilhelm's shoulders.

    Young Royals also acknowledges the privilege of these characters. While the vast majority of Hillerska's boarding students come from ultra-wealthy families, Simon and his sister Sara (Frida Argento) come from a working-class, single-parent household, and as such, they remain outsiders looking in on this elite world. Simon has mostly resigned himself to life on the fringes, but Sara secretly hopes to be part of the popular clique, and she succeeds by befriending resident cool girl Felice (Nikita Uggla). Still, Sara struggles to be seen as an equal by her peers, even after she earns a scholarship that allows her to board with Felice in Season 2, and concerns about her financial situation continue to plague her throughout the show.

    The Season 2 finale only adds more fuel to these storylines, but with production wrapped on Young Royals' third and final season, it won't be long before things come to a head in dramatic fashion. And now that Wilhelm is finally committed to standing up for himself, perhaps he and Simon will get their Red, White & Royal Blue-style happy ending, after all.

    Red, White & Royal Blue premieres Friday, August 11 on Prime Video. Young Royals is streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Young Royals, Netflix, Prime Video, Red, White & Royal Blue, Edvin Ryding, Omar Rudberg