As steaming services play a bigger and bigger role in the film and television industry, a lot of attention is going to their original content–but mainly streaming television shows. What about streaming movies? What hidden gems or washed up flops are hiding under the “___ Original” tab? Lets see what is awash in the stream.
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
Director: John Schultz
Writers: Nate Atkins. Based on characters created by Karen Schaler
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is terrible. Let’s establish that up front. The acting is stiff, the cinematography is flat, and the plot teeters between nonsense and absurdity. This isn’t aiming to be a cinematic masterpiece, but vaguely entertaining background noise about bland people falling in love and having domestic, non-threatening fun in a nice house. Where things go off the rails is the–accidental?–implication that the main love interest is a dictator holding the fate of a nation in his vacuous grip. Combine with a plotline that involves the villain essentially stealing a country’s economy, and you’ve got something that is, in the very least, memorable.
Netflix films run the gamut from the 21st century digital equivalent of straight to VHS, to an outlet for unique mid-budget films left behind by theatrical distribution that’s dominated by blockbusters. This feature has tended to focus mainly on the latter–we’ve had a Coen brothers film and the follow up(s) to The Raid, but this is closer to the former. Although, straight VHS isn’t quite right–this is much more in the Hallmark Channel’s wheelhouse than anything you’d ever find on a Blockbuster (RIP) shelf.
I have not seen the first A Christmas Prince, but I watched this with mom who apparently is a fan of the first one, so I got the gist of everything. If any hardcore A Christmas Prince fans find any errors in this, please comment to let me know. This film picks up exactly 349 days after the last one. Amber (Rose McIver) writes a story on her popular blog about what a whirlwind almost a year it’s been, engaged to King Richard (Ben Lamb). There’s a weirdly pointless montage to illustrate this, that’s mostly Amber and Richard in airports and passports being stamped, and also Richard appearing on the cover of Cover magazine. So, a couple of things right off the bat: Yes, Amber is somehow a professional blogger in the year 2018. Yes, several characters refer to it as a blog, and Ambers’ writing as blogging, throughout the film. Remember blogs? They were how people wrote online, before media companies realized that they could make money from the internet. Then those media companies pivoted to video, and bloggers were overrun by youtubers. Then it turned out that Facebook made up a lot of information about video views, and now nobody is making money, but that’s another story. And also, even though IMDB lists Richard as Prince Richard, he is the king, having been crowned at the end of A Christmas Prince. Admittedly, A Christmas King doesn’t have the same ring to it, but Richard ruling Aldovia as king is most of the plot.
Despite being engaged to the king of Aldovia, Amber still lives in New York. She arrives in Aldovia with her father Rudy (John Guerrasio) about a week before her wedding. It’s never really addressed if she plans on moving to Aldovia once she becomes queen, or if she plans to rule from across the Atlantic. Even though she’s been engaged to King Richard for nearly a year, Amber still doesn’t quite understand how royalty works and is surprised when a royal entourage comes to pick her up from the airport instead of getting a cab. Once at the palace, conflict emerges between Amber and Mrs. Avril (Sarah Douglas), who is head of the royal household or something, I guess. Mrs. Avril’s exact job isn’t entirely clear, but she is in charge of running the day to day of the palace and also the wedding. Mrs. Avril has hired Sahil (Raj Bajaj), a flamboyant wedding planner, to design the wedding. Amber wants to keep things simple, but Mrs. Avril is insistent on a big wedding in keeping with royal tradition, while Sahil wants to go as extravagant as possible. Even though Sahil and Mrs. Avril work for King Richard and Amber, Amber is still hesitant to fight too hard about the wedding and King Richard is a cardboard cutout of a human that defers to whatever keeps the plot going. He’s also distracted by a massive economic recession that has gripped Aldovia.
Shortly after King Richard was crowned, he unveiled a plan to modernize Aldovia, that mainly involves a big economic stimulus to Aldovian companies. Despite major investments by the Aldovian government, the plan backfired and Aldovia is in economic crisis, gripped by mass unemployment. The most notable thing about this: King Richard is responsible for major economic initiatives, and is held personally responsible for the state of the Aldovian economy. Newspaper headlines identify it as King Richard’s modernization initiative, and he gives a speech that is swarmed by protestors that clearly hold him accountable. There is a Prime Minister, who shows up for a two second cameo to confirm he exists, but King Richard appears to be the actual head of state, not just a figurehead.
Not to get too controversial here, but monarchist governments are bad, and democracy is good. In fiction, monarchies work in fantastical or historical contexts. Black Panther had a fictional 21st century monarchy, but the kingdom of Wakanda was powered by magic metal and one of the official duties of the king was to use a super-powered suit to personally beat up terrorists–it’s fair to suspend disbelief on constitutional theory. But there is nothing really fantastical about Aldovia. No magic forests, spellbound creatures, ancient lore. It’s just a regular non-descript European country, which appears to be ruled by an unelected monarchy with few if any checks on power.
Richards mother, Queen Helena (Alice Krige) arranges for Lord Leopold (Simon Dutton) to return to the royal advisory council. Lord Leopold had served under Richard’s father, but retired shortly before the previous kings’ death. Also returning is Simon (Theo Devaney), the antagonist from the first film who had tried to usurp Richards’ crown. He’s fallen on hard times, having been defeated so hard in the previous film that his wife divorced him, like Ivan Drago in Creed II. Simon has nowhere else to go on Christmas, so Richard decides to let him stay at the palace, but doesn’t give him any sort of royal responsibility and glares at him all the time. Everybody is passive aggressive towards Simon, except the young Princess Emily (Honor Kneafsey) who is just aggressive and openly insults him.
Leopolds advice is just stay the course and wait out the recession. Amber is the only person to ask about what may be causing the recession, and suggest they might look at the investments the Aldovian government had made to try to figure out why they didn’t work. King Richard, who is the guy that came up with the modernization plan and is ready to throw around massive piles of cash, never thought to ask why anything was happening. Leopold gushes about how Amber is so smart and involved with state affairs, and promises to do a vague “review” of the investments, and I’ll just go ahead and spoil that he’s the bad guy that is single-handedly ruining Aldovia’s economy. We’ll get to that later, but it is as insane as it sounds.
There’s a subplot with Rudy, who owns a diner in New York, going into the palace kitchen and trying to help, and being rebuffed by Chef Ivanna (Katarina Cas). Chef Ivanna is an internationally renowned culinary artist, and personal chef to the royal family of Aldovia, and now some New York diner guy is coming up trying to talk about putting sliders on the menu for the royal wedding, so she’s understandably very grumpy. There’s also an extremely pointless subplot with Princess Elizabeth starring in a Christmas play about some weird Aldovian fairytale, which includes a scene where she kisses a co-star she has a crush on. The play gets cancelled when theater workers go on strike with the rest of the country, so they make gingerbread houses or whatever in the kitchen, and the boy asks Elizabeth out and there really isn’t anything else going on here. Amber posts a candid picture of Princess Elizabeth on her blog, but Mrs. Avril has the blog censored to maintain “royal protocol.” Not just by a firewall in Aldovia, but has the post totally removed, so that even Ambers’ friends in the US can’t see it. Mrs. Avril asserts that Amber will need to stop blogging when she is Queen. Amber protests that her blog is very important to her, but doesn’t question the underlying legality of Mrs. Avril deleting the post. Amber knows how things work in Aldovia. Also, just want to highlight that mass unemployment has led to a nationwide labor strike across all industries, and the most direct effect on the royal family is that a school play is cancelled, and Amber has to postpone a date with Richard. Richard feels kind of sad that people are out work, but the suffering of the proletariat is barely background noise to the affairs of the royal family..
Amber is suspicious that something about the recession isn’t adding up, and decides to investigate. From what I gathered from the high school economics class I slept through, nationwide economics are extremely complex and involve a multitude of factors, but Amber is pretty sure that the recession is like a Scooby Doo mystery, and she just needs to find the one thing going wrong and the economy will be fixed. And she’s right! When Ambers two friends Melissa (Tahirah Sharif) and Andy (Joel McVeagh) arrive in Aldovia for her bachelorette party, she instead tracks down an out of work construction worker who wrote an angry christmas card to the royal family to ask him about how he got laid off. Amber uses sunglasses to hider her identity. He relates rumors he heard second hand from middle-management, about a big contract going to a company called Meadowlark. Meadowlark, he heard, isn’t really Aldovian, and didn’t even put in the best bid, raising questions about how it scored a big government contract. These questions will not actually be answered. Amber notes that Meadowlark sounds fishy.
Amber takes off her sunglasses, and is swarmed by reporters. Simon, who had followed them,helps Amber escape from paparazzi, and suggests they look through the hall of records for more information on Meadowlark. The hall of records is inexplicably not accessible to the public–the Aldovian government does not appear to believe in transparency–so Princess Emily helps out by hacking in, since she is apparently a computer hacker it turns out. Amber doesn’t want to ask Richard for help, but why Princess Emily, who is a Princess, or Simon, who is next in line for the throne after Richard, would not have access to the hall of records is never explained. While Elizabeth is hacking, Amber and friends have time for an actual bachelorette party, where they sing karaoke and paint each others nails, since bachelorette parties are the same thing as a pre-teen sleepover. Elizabeth gets into the hall of records website, and they connect Meadowlark, and few other companies that collected contracts from the modernization, to an apparently German shell company called Glockenspiel, which is owned by Lord Leopold. Leopold had stolen the entire economic stimulus.
Let’s take a moment to recap and reflect on this: King Richard launches a major effort to modernize Aldovia, which revolves around massive investments of public funds into private companies and big infrastructure spending. Yet somehow, all the investments–or at least enough of them actually reverse growth–get funnelled into a German shell company, owned by an Aldovian noble. Who was reviewing the contracts? Amber figures out what’s going in under of a day of investigating, based on secondhand rumors from a random construction worker and casually skimming the official paperwork the companies filed. Leopold had retired from government before the modernization plan, so somebody else had to be signing off on the contracts. The construction worker says it wasn’t even the best bid. Was Meadowlark a real company at all, or just a name on paper to collect money? If the latter, wouldn’t anybody in charge notice that the big infrastructure contract they gave out was going literally nowhere and the company was doing absolutely nothing? And again, one guy stole enough money to wreck an entire economy. Lord Leopold stole the economy.
There’s a big confrontation, where Amber fully asserts her what she wants for her wedding, and throws out Sahill’s plans the night before the ceremony. King Richard also overrules Mrs. Avril, and says that Amber can continue her blog. Never get between a woman and her blog. They also accuse Leopold of embezzlement. Amber says he had been stealing “royal funds,” and Richard calls him a “threat to the crown.” Queen Helena has Leopold taken to the dungeon–there had been a running joke about ‘there’s no dungeons,’ but it turns out there are, and the royal family can have somebody imprisoned in the dungeons without warrant or trial. If this turns into a trilogy, I expect Richard to declare ‘I am the state’ while ordering the deaths of his political opponents. Amber would blog about it.
King Richard gives a special Christmas speech where he announces that they have rooted out the corruption that was hobbling the Aldovian economy, and everybody is getting a Christmas bonus this year! How the Christmas bonuses are supposed to work raises questions I don’t have the energy to ask. So, a young monarch takes power, and immediately institutes economic reforms, which fail. He figures that the reforms are good, and blames the countries hard times on a loyalist to the old regime. He publicly denounces the scapegoat as a traitor with vague foreign ties, and says that purging this corruption will immediately resolve their economic woes. If this were a nondescript Middle Eastern country instead of a nondescript European country, you would expect the bonesaws to come out at this point. But no, Christmas is saved, and the wedding goes off without a hitch, and Amber lives happily ever after with her generically bland Christmas despotic ruler.
Aside from Aldovia’s pending economic collapse due to rampant corruption, the movie is very low-stakes. Amber and Richard don’t have a lot of screen time together, and their relationship is never in doubt, it’s just a question of Amber putting her foot down about what dress she wants to wear and if she can continue to blog. She is the last shining light of blogging. The core of this type of film is wish fulfilment. Who wouldn’t want to marry into a European royal family, with a sprawling palace, and a husband who shows up to help in the third act but is otherwise forgettable and nonthreatening? It’s domestic bliss, with the barest hint of conflict. This film series is clearly a public domain version of the Meghan Markle story, but the decision to have the royals actually ruling the nation elevates this from disposable ‘ripped from the headlines’ romcom to something more ludicrous, and at least memorable.
Hidden Gem or Washed Up Flop? Washed Up Flop