Prince Charmings a-plenty, palace hijinks and a fairy tale ending. Why are we all so obsessed with the royal fantasy?
On 17 November 2017, a smart, plucky American announced her engagement to the bachelor Prince Charming of a historic European royal family.
And then, 10 days later, Meghan Markle announced her engagement to Prince Harry.
Before Meghan Markle and Prince Harry there was Amber Moore (Rose McIver) and Prince Richard of Aldovia (Ben Lamb), the star-crossed lovers in Netflix’s A Christmas Prince. Released on the streaming platform on 17 November 2017, the film was an instant, if baffling, hit.
Full of deranged romantic comedy energy, A Christmas Prince was a big slab of festive ham, stuffed with cliché after cliché. There was a clumsy, quirky heroine who loved to wear sneakers under her ballgowns, an initially distant, but ultimately kind-hearted Prince, Christmas urchins reminding everyone about the true spirit of the festive season, and lots of horse-adjacent tomfoolery.
Audiences ate it up with a spoon. Netflix even took a break from its usual reticence to release viewership data to announce that 53 people in America had watched A Christmas Prince every day for 18 days in the lead up to Christmas. (“Who hurt you?” they asked on Twitter.)
If three years of statistics taught me anything, it is that correlation does not equal causation. And yet, in the curious case of the Prince Charming-heavy Christmas movies currently doing the rounds on Netflix – A Christmas Prince and its sequel A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding, as well as The Princess Switch – there is an undeniable link between the proliferation of right royal cinematic fairy tales and the right royal, real-life fairy tale romance between Meghan and Harry.
‘Twas always thus. Back in 2004, a woman from a rural state had a chance meeting with an incognito playboy Crown Prince of Denmark and ended up the future Queen of the Scandinavian nation.
Such was the real-life romance between Mary Donaldson, advertising executive from Tasmania, Australia, who had a fairy tale meet-cute with Denmark’s Prince Frederik in a crowded bar during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But it’s also the storyline of the 2004 romantic comedy The Prince & Me starring Julia Stiles as Paige, a Wisconsin farm girl studying to be a doctor and Luke Mably as the Poor Little Rich Boy Prince Edward.
The Prince & Me drew on all the real-life elements of Mary and Frederik’s love story when crafting its own romance. Edward, like Frederik, was a bit of a wastrel in his youth, spending his time racing cars and snogging supermodels (Frederik dated models Malou Aamund, Katja Storkholm and pop star Maria Montell) until his path crossed with Paige’s. The story of Mary and Frederik, of a commoner who bagged a Prince, was romantic comedy gold.
And it became the inspriation for Netflix’s raft of royal-inspired Christmas movies. A Christmas Prince and its sequel A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding are cut from pretty much the same cloth. In both, there’s something rotten in the state of Aldovia that requires Amber’s unique set of investigative blogging skills to uncover.
In the original, it’s a plot by Prince Richard’s weasely cousin Simon to steal the throne, a storyline with shades of The Princess Diaries: A Royal Engagement, in which Amelia Mignognette Thermopolis Renaldi Princess of Genovia finds her claim to the throne imperiled by the scheming of a distant relative and the Best Hollywood Chris (Pine).
In A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding, the drama is provided by the mystery of missing funds from the Aldovian treasury and the bankruptcy of the nation. In both films, it’s Amber’s position as an outsider, as well as her enterprising skills as a journalist, that help save the day and remind Prince Richard of her importance in his life.
It’s much the same story in The Princess Switch, which stars Vanessa Hudgens twice as Stacey, a baker from Chicago and her distant, albeit identical, cousin Lady Margaret Delacourt.
The two swap places at Lady Margaret’s insistence – she is due to marry Prince Edward of Belgravia on Christmas Day, but has never experienced what it’s like to be a ‘normal’ twenty-something woman – and both end up falling in love with their new lives. Lady Margaret loves wearing baseball caps and jeans and horsing around with Stacey’s dishy business partner Kevin, while Stacey loves the responsibility of being a Princess and the wardrobe of tiaras and the corresponding Prince Charming that comes with it.
There are shades of Meghan in both Stacey and Amber, as there will be in every royal romance from here on in. Whenever a real-life fairy tale happens – Mary and Frederik, Meghan and Harry – there will always be an equal and opposite Hollywood reaction.
The same was almost true for Kate Middleton and Prince William, too. In the immediate aftermath of their 2011 wedding, Hollywood tried to make a romantic comedy about a royal union between a commoner and her Prince.
There was a script written by the team behind 500 Days of Summer and romantic comedy queen Nancy Meyers, the woman behind Christmas classic The Holiday and It’s Complicated, was all set to direct. Film industry insiders compared the project to Notting Hill. Every actress in Hollywood wanted the role. Ultimately, the movie never ended up happening, after the film studio reportedly balked at funding the film in an era when romantic comedies were on the decline.
But Netflix’s triumvirate of royal-inspired romances prove that, more than ever, there’s an appetite for a Prince Charming fantasy. And we have Meghan and Harry to thank for that.