' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Mulled Wine: A Not So Royal Christmas

Friday, December 22, 2023

Friday's Mulled Wine: A Not So Royal Christmas

When I’m thinking about Hallmark Christmas movies, as I (too) often do, I like to imagine a large conference room with a big conference table surrounded by idea women and men, all staring at an enormous markerboard bearing the titles of various comedies and romances and rom coms of Hollywood years gone by and drawing arrows from one movie name to another, hoping to find a satisfactory This Meets That. If that’s true, the think tank really nailed it with “A Not So Royal Christmas.” As the title suggests, director Jonathan Wright’s celebration of the season is not about a Royal masquerading as a commoner but a commoner masquerading as a Royal, in this case Adam (Will Kemp), landscaper at the Royal palace in the fictional kingdom of Nordin when the Count of Sorhagen secretly abdicates, Edward VIII-style, to run off with a damsel from Daytona Beach. (To quote Dave Barry, I’m not making this up.) He is thrust into the role when London-based American tabloid journalist Charlotte (Brooke D’Orsay) shows up seeking an interview with the necessarily reclusive Count, mistaking Adam for her subject, sparks eventually flying between the two even as the truth lurks. It’s the idea women and men, in other words, drawing a line from “Hitch” (2005) to “Dave” (1993). Jonathan, bring me my green light!

As these things go, “A Not So Royal Christmas” is a respectable aesthetic entry to the genre. I mean, yes, sure, that rear projection, which you’ll know when (if) you see it, believe me, sticks out like a lobster in the Nativity play, and alright, it’s true, the climactic Yuletide Ball comes across so secondary that, in some ways, this hardly qualifies as a genuine Christmas movie no matter how many lights are strung in every room, and ok, you got me, D’Orsay just doesn’t come across like a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners gossip columnist at the start. We need a turn, Brooke! But. D’Orsay looks at Kemp like she’s falling in love with him, she really does, and in this chaste universe, that counts for a lot, and Kemp evinces more of the kooky charm that has made him one of the higher quality Hallmark leading men. What’s more, we get two fine supporting turns from Roy Lewis as the exasperated Royal official trying to keep a lid on and, especially, from Lindsay Owen Pierre as Charlotte’s boss. He is mostly just there to stir the plot, but Owen Pierre stirs it with comic panache, the one having the real Yuletide ball. He is our 2023 Hallmark Countdown to Christmas Best Supporting Actor. (Melissa Peterman of “Haul Out the Holly: Lit Up” is Best Supporting Actress.)

More than anything, though, I want to discuss Anna White’s script, or one aspect of it, at least. The Hallmark Channel is an apolitical place, even if their Countdown to Christmas innately disproves so much War on Christmas piffle, which is why a variation of “Dave” could not take place in the White House. After all, the White House is the People’s House, evocative of democracy, all pesky politics and debate, whereas the Monarchy evokes nothing more, really, than blood and magic. Even so, by devising a plot in which a commoner stands in for a Royal and questions Monarchal tradition, it can’t help but demonstrate misgivings about the whole Royal structure, as if Meghan Markle were working as White’s script doctor, an idea furthered in how everyone in this ostensibly Scandinavian kingdom speaks in English accents. Although all this barely rises to the level of commentary, more like a gentle op-ed for the common man, and while there are various story complications to work out, the one that stands out as “A Not So Royal Christmas” comes to a close is seeing how White ultimately will thread the nonpartisan needle. Indeed, she manages to engineer a real Made for TV Christmas miracle by transforming her Not-A-Count-Count into an elite even as he stays true to himself, proving herself a regular Hallmark Holiday Houdini. 

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