This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
By cutting June Claremont-Diaz from the story, Red, White, and Royal Blue loses a lot of the heart that originally came from the book.
Red, White, and Royal Blue’s popularity keeps growing. Following the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers rom-com trope, the film is an LGBTQ classic in the making. That mostly has to do with the film’s attractive main stars — Taylor Zakhar Perez as First Son of the United States Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as HRH Prince Henry. As an adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s 2019 novel, the film is cheesy, fun, and enjoyable, if you don’t mind narrative rush jobs and surface level characters. Certainly, rom-coms are usually cheesy. But the best ones allow for deeper character work. While Red, White, and Royal Blue could have dug deeper on some of Alex’s inner thoughts, it’s also missing one key ingredient: June Claremont-Diaz.
Who is June Claremont-Diaz?
In the book, June is Alex’s older sister. She’s a writer whose dreams lie outside politics but her love for her brother sees her giving up her life in California to live in the White House to support Alex. June doesn’t just play second fiddle to Alex’s main character; she’s Alex’s confidant, her mother’s occasional speech writer, and friend to Nora, who’s played by Rachel Hilson in the movie.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, director Matthew Lopez said: “First and foremost, it was about Alex and Henry for me, and inevitably there were going to be things left out,” he said. “If it’s not about Alex and Henry, it doesn’t belong in the film – that was reinforced when I was editing the movie. There are some things we filmed that are in the novel that I had to take out. It was very clear to me the first time I saw an assembly of the film that anything not relevant to their love story just didn’t belong in it.”
But cutting a whole character like June loses a lot of the heart of the book. Sure, it’s just a rom-com, but the world and the main character’s life still needs to be fleshed out. June’s absence changes the dynamics of all the characters in the film.
Alex loses his support system
The film portrays Alex as a confident and politically-minded milliennial. When it comes to his sexual awakening, he’s pretty laid back about it. His main concern is why he has feelings for Prince Henry, his sworn enemy (one-sided). But the Alex in the book goes through a more realistic sexual identity discovery. It takes him some time to realize he’s suppressed his bisexuality for years. June and Nora help him come to terms with it.
Nora is the one that talks him through the film version of this crisis, though it’s short and is more about Alex’s confusion about Henry. This change loses some of the well-crafted coming-of-age moments that Alex goes through when coming to terms with his sexuality. But in the book, June is a huge supporter of Alex and Henry, even helping with keeping the secret by going on pretend dates with Henry in order to trick the press.
While the film does allow for a great coming out scene between Alex and his mom, not having June as the initial support system cuts his support system down significantly.
June’s absence puts more pressure on Nora
June and Nora meld into one character in the film, leaving the best friend/sister role to be filled solely by Nora. The issue with this is that it relegates Nora to being only Alex’s confidant. Without June, film Nora plays double duty. This minimizes her role to a few scenes. She’s there to be a sounding board for Alex and make admittedly snappy one-liners, but it’s such a loss of a character and an actress’s talent.
In the book, Nora’s a wicked smart data analyst who comes in clutch in figuring out who leaked Alex’s and Henry’s emails. The film barely mentions what she does for the White House.
It’s also heavily implied in the Henry-focused bonus chapters of Red, White, and Royal Blue that June and Nora are a couple. Without June, it’s a loss for more LGBTQ representation on screen.
The film loses the found-family dynamic
June, Alex, and Nora make up the White House Trio, a name given to them by the media because of their high status and tight-knit dynamic. That group becomes even larger when Henry, Percy, and Bea join them.
Through Alex’s perspective in the book, this found family dynamic is fleshed out even more, giving more time to important scenes like the lake house and the karaoke bar.
While these scenes still take place with Percy and Nora, they are relegated to montages, glossing over the budding friendships of the group. That found family dynamic is just as important for queer people as the romantic aspects are, and the film loses the joy of what that kind of support looks like. Having June in the film could have forced the issue to spend time on delevoping the friendships.
June Claremont-Diaz gets her own storyline with her mother
Being the daughter of the president isn’t an easy job. While Alex is showcased as desiring a life in politics, June does not. Her mother constantly pushes her into working on her reelection campaign, which June is wary of doing because it would affect her journalism career.
The film doesn’t really cover the son of the president dynamic for Alex. He wants to help with his mother’s policy matters but Ellen refuses to let him contribute. Ellen Claremont’s politics are pretty surface-level, though it’s not really needed for a romantic comedy. Still, the film hardly touches Alex’s feelings on being in the spotlight or what life is like as the son of the president. But because June doesn’t want to be involved in politics, she was always around to remind Alex that he doesn’t always have to do work for their mom’s administration. This leads to a major shift in Alex’s self-image. He wanted to be the youngest congressman in history, but by June’s urging and his own self-revelations, he decides to go to law school.
Book-to-movie adaptations are never going to be perfect. However, it’s a huge risk to cut an entire character, especially a fan-favorite one at that. Though I understand this is a love story between Alex and Henry, without the main character’s support system, the narrative and important character moments get rushed. June Claremont-Diaz deserved her time on screen, as did all the moments that were cut short due to her absence.
Red, White, and Royal Blue is now available to stream on Prime Video. Watch the trailer here.
Feature image courtesy of Prime Video. Read more articles by Katey Stoetzel here.