Friday, December 21, 2018

"A Christmas Prince" Or Who Hurt You?

"Pulitzer Prize, here I come!": Junior journalist Amber Moore (Rose McIver) is ready to break into the big leagues in "A Christmas Prince."(2017)

Huzzah and welcome, movie lovers!

Today we travel to the ancient realm of Aldovia, a small, but vital, nation of towering forests, snow-capped mountains, cobblestone streets and centuries of royal tradition. Aldovians have survived war, geopolitical upheavals and economic challenges with their culture and sovereignty in tact. This, no doubt, has been due to the enlightened guidance of  Aldovia's many wise kings. And as "A Christmas Prince" (2017) opens, the nation is about to end its mourning for the late, lamented King Richard I and begin a new era under his son, also named Richard.

According to tradition, after a monarch dies, a year must pass before a new king can be crowned. However, Aldovia's king-to-be Richard (Ben Lamb, who appears to be suffering from tight under-things), high-tailed it out of town as soon as pops kicked the royal bucket. Rumor has it Prince Richard is a lazy, shiftless, super-model chasing aristo-brat who doesn't even want to rule. Nevertheless, the palace insists Richard will be home in time to be crowned on Christmas Eve. Still, the clock is ticking, if you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A, Amber Moore (Rose McIver), junior editor at "Now Beat" magazine, is chomping at the bit to tackle a "real" story. So when editor Max (Amy Marston) assigns her to cover the return and coronation of Prince Richard, the crusading journalist is more than ready. She books a flight, gets a hotel room and does mounds of research. Unfortunately, when Amber lands at the "Aldovia International Airport", a tall, bearded guy swipes her cab, causing her to scream, "Stupid jerk!"

Later, sitting with the other reporters on the press bus, Amber asks a seasoned journalist for some "words of wisdom."

If ZZ-Top had a baby...: Under-cover royal Prince Richard (Ben Lamb) and his beard.

"Pick a new career," he replies.

Too late! The movie's already been filmed!

While the press pack cools their heels waiting for the official press conference to begin, the Lord Chamberlain suddenly announces Prince Richard has chosen not to appear and, what's more, will not be giving any interviews until his coronation. The room explodes into boos and the frustrated reporters stomp off in a huff. Amber, however, is afraid to return to her boss empty handed on this, her very first assignment. So the plucky reporter sneaks past security and manages to infiltrate the palace proper. Once inside, Amber runs into a palace flunky who assumes she is the new American tutor for Princess Emily (more about that later.). She's promptly hustled in to meet Queen Helene (Alice Kringe), who is having a serious conversation with... the same stupid jerk who stole Amber's cab! Believe it or not, that stupid jerk is Prince Richard! What are the chances of that happening?!

 When Richard and Amber recognize each other, they look like they are about to punch each other. "Stupid jerk at your service!" Richard sneers. But their mutual hostility soon melts into mutual attraction because, jeez, what else is suppose to happen? Have Amber kick HRH in the nuts for swiping her cab? Have HRH call Amber a pushy Yank skank? No, because that would be too original (and too much fun).

Then Princess Emily (Honor Kneafsey) arrives. She's a curly headed tween who also happens to have spinal bifida. Although she manages well with a wheelchair and crutches, mommy Queen Helene still over-protects her. This has made Princess Emily a bit of a brat, at least to her string of long-suffering tutors. However, plucky Amber quickly earns her love by treating the princess like a regular kid, even going so far as to take her sledding and helping her bake cookies.

"Sleigh Ride": Over-protected Princess Emily enjoys some outdoor fun with Amber.

Ensconced in the palace, Amber tries to balance her role as Emily's fake tutor with observing Prince Richard for her magazine article. To the surprise of no one, Prince Richard is actually a good egg: he's well spoken, plays the piano, practices archery and enjoys snowball fights. He is the exact opposite of the super-model chasing playboy the press has claimed he is. Naturally, Amber starts to fall for the big lug because there wouldn't be a movie if she didn't...but then there's no movie anyway, so same/same.

Meanwhile, skulking around the palace corridors is Richard's cousin Simon (Theo Devaney), who happens to be a duke and second in line for the throne. Simon is a nasty piece of work who covets the throne of Aldovia for himself. The prince and the duke dislike each other intensely, often trading insults along the lines of this:

Simon: "Still soul searching?"

Richard: "At least I have one."


Scheming Duke Simon (Theo Devancy) plots to steal Prince Richard's throne--and his comb-over.

Also making their unwanted presence felt is Baroness Sophia (Emma Louise Saunders), Richard's blue-blooded ex. Looking like "The Big Bang Theory"s Mayim Bialik's really evil sister, Sophia made the mistake of speaking to the press about her romance with Richard. Sophia insists she feels really bad about that ("I was young and stupid!" she wails); what's more, she claims she has always loved Richard for himself. Honest! Instead, the prince fixes Sophia with a piercing gaze and declares, "You love the spotlight! You love the attention!" and stalks off.

It doesn't take Simon and Sophia long to notice that Richard and Amber are spending more time together than necessary. So the no-good-nicks team up to get dirt on the duo. Baroness Sophia is especially hostile to Amber, making snide cracks about her "gauche" manners and choice of footwear (high tops with everything). After all, how could a prince of the blood favor a dorky American over a polished European socialite? 

Then late one afternoon, Amber saddles up a horse and secretly follows Prince Richard into the forest. In due course, Amber gets lost and the horse bucks her off. Seconds later, a snarling wolf appears, ready to tear Amber limb from limb. Before you can say, "Go for it, Wolfie!" Richard arrives and fires a pistol, causing the critter to run away. The prince and Amber repair to the late king's favorite hunting lodge, where they build a cozy fire, sip hot drinks and suck face. Interrupting this "dumb enchanted evening" are more pesky wolves, so Richard goes off to investigate. This gives Amber time to poke around a near-by desk, where she discovers (gasp!) a secret compartment (shock!) that hides a mystery set of royal papers (no way!) written by the late king!

Back in her palace bedroom, Amber reads through the papers, learning (to her horror!) that Prince Richard was secretly adopted by the king and queen! In other words, Richard is NOT the true heir! Cowabunga, it's the royal scoop of the century!

What should Amber do? Tell Richard the truth about his parentage? Contact her editor and score a front page bombshell? Use the info to blackmail the royal family into bankruptcy? Perhaps claim the throne of Aldovia for herself?

"One usually has to go to a bowling alley to find a lady of your stature..."*: Amber bends at the knees  before her betters.

Before Amber can decide what to do, it's time for the highly anticipated Christmas Eve Ball-slash-Coronation. Realizing what a fashion victim Amber is, Princess Emily arranges for a team of stylists to give her tutor a make-over. You know what happens next: while a ballroom full of dignitaries and guests look on in shock and awe, Amber, in a sparkly blue gown, makes her grand entrance. Prince Richard's jaw hits the floor and his package bulges when he catches sight of her. The handsome prince leads Amber to the dance floor. The couple sway to a lovely waltz and nearly kiss in front of everybody. It's the wonderful, romantic, fairy tale moment every girl dreams of...until it isn't. That's because Duke Simon barges in to announce that he, not Richard, is the rightful heir. While everybody gasps, Simon not only waives around Richard's secret adoption papers--which he pinched from Amber's room because she didn't hide them very well--he also unmasks Amber as the under-cover reporter preparing to blab the whole story to the world.

Prince Richard later confronts Queen Helene. She tearfully explains that, shortly after marrying the king, she learned she could not have children. Understandably, this news made her "feel like a failure" and led her to believe that she'd "let the country down." Later on, however, when the royal couple learned they could "secretly adopt", they were over-joyed. Thus, when infant Richard was handed over to them, their majesties saw him as "truly their son" and how he came to them was beside the point.

Filled with love and understanding, Richard vows to fight for his birth right.

Amber,on the other hand, is miserable. She's blown her first journalism assignment, betrayed Richard and Emily, handed the throne over to rotten egg Simon and been exposed as a fake tutor. Even worse, she's been unceremoniously dumped at the "Aldovia International Airport" during rush hour. In tears, Amber calls her dad, a laid-back, the glass-is-always-half-full-kind-of-guy, and tells him the whole, sordid story. Dad ends up reminding his daughter that, while failure is no fun (amen to that), it often "plant(s) the seed(s) of greater success down the road."

Suddenly, Amber has a brain wave. Didn't Prince Richard share with her the last poem King Richard wrote (the late monarch was quite a wordsmith)? And didn't that missive contain allusions to trees and acorns and seeds that nobody could make heads-or-tales of?

Royal Pains: Duke Simon and Baroness Sophia plan some royal intrigue.

Off like a shot, Amber races over to the Aldovian royal palace, where she is met by the Mrs. Danvers-ish Chief of Protocol, Mrs. Averill (Sarah Douglas). She begs the frozen-faced Brit to let her see the hand made wooden acorn ornament the late king made for Helene (the king was also quite a wood worker, too.).

Meanwhile, over at Parliament, Simon and Baroness Sophia have become husband and wife. All that needs to be done is for the Prime Minister to declare Simon king.

But wait! Amber bursts into the historic chamber with Mrs. Averill at her heels. She opens Queen Helene's acorn ornament and pulls out King Richard's last will and testament. It proclaims that Prince Richard is his son in every way and, what's more, he has earned  the right to be king because he's such a good egg. The document is signed with King Richard's personal seal, so nobody can doubt its authenticity.

The Prime Minister inspects the document and declares it legal and valid. Huzzah! Now Prince Richard can become King Richard II, just as he was meant to be. While Parliament cheers, Richard bends his knee and takes the oath of state. Baroness Sophia, pissed off that she won't be queen, flounces off to find a divorce lawyer. Simon, foiled in his plans to stage a royal coup, slinks off to sulk. Amber, having saved the day for both Richard and Aldovia, quietly heads for home.

Back in the states, Amber hands her finished story over to her editor, Max. She loves it; it's a mature, nuanced piece of writing that explains the Aldovian crisis in all its intricacies. The problem is, Max didn't want that story; she wanted all the juicy palace intrigue with secret adoptions and stuff. After all, Amber works for "Now Beat" magazine, not "US News and World Reports".

Rose McIver shows us how she got through the filming of "A Christmas Prince."

Shocked, shocked! that her editor wanted a piece of gossipy drivel instead of a responsible piece of journalism, Amber grabs her story and quits...before Max can fire her. Unemployed but undaunted, our plucky reporter girl takes her tale to the Internet--where factual, concise, even-handed and truthful reporting is always welcome (my Aunt Fanny). Amber publishes several blog posts about her adventures in Aldovia and tells the world what a good egg King Richard II is.

Of course, it ain't over yet. As every bad movie fanatic knows, "A Christmas Prince" will drag its bloody carcass across the screen until it reaches its Inevitable Conclusion. If you don't know what the flick's Inevitable Conclusion could possibly be, may I remind you that Netflix is airing "A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding" as we speak? Now, do the math. Need flash cards? Paper and pencil?

All of this doesn't mean "A Christmas Prince" is the worst "royal romance" movie ever made. "Grace Kelly" (1983) starring Cheryl "Charlie's Angel's" Ladd, "The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana" (1982), "Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story" (1982), "Andy and Fergie: Behind Palace Doors" (1992), "The Women of Windsor" (1992), "William and Kate" (2011) ( supposedly set in an "England" where people drive on the "American" side of the street), "Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance" (2018) (where Prince Harry lectures his future wife, "What do gingers have to look forward to? Gray hair!"), and "Mary: The Making of a Princess" (2015, an Aussie TV-er that dared show the future Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark snuggling under the sheets in their underwear hours after they met) certainly give our featured flick a run for its money.

However, what does set "A Christmas Prince" apart from the roll call of royal wretchedness is its inexplicable success on Netflix--a success that lead Netflix employees to discover that fifty three (53!) subscribers had watched this movie at least once a day for eighteen (18!) days straight. Furthermore, this information moved a Netflix employee to pose the following question to the movie's more ardent fans: "Who hurt you?"

To which I would like to add: I agree. Who hurt you? Was it a gym teacher?

Princess Emily: "I like you, Amber. That's why I'm going to kill you last."

In final analysis, what does the enduring success of "A Christmas Prince" reveal about the state of the world we live in?

1) Our world is so starved for genuine love and affection that people are willing to subject themselves to this wretched film in order to fill the void, at least temporarily.

2) People still believe marrying a prince and/or future king means you will enjoy a happy life. The trials and tribulations of Princess Margaret (one thwarted love, one divorce, one major drinking problem), Princess Stephanie of Monaco (two divorces), Princess Caroline of Hanover (one divorce, one annulment, one death, currently separated from from current hubby who urinated on the Turkish Pavilion in Hanover in 2000), Princess Diana ('nuff said), Duchess Fergie (ditto), Empress Elisabeth of Austria (STDs, compulsive exercising, assassination), Czarina Alexandra of Russia (killed with all of her family in 1918), Crown Princess Masako of Japan (isolation, depression, fertility struggles, the ossified life inside the palace) and ALL of Henry the Vlll's wives (two beheaded, one died, one sent into exile, one granted an annulment for non-consummation of the marriage) prove otherwise. Not only does history show marrying a prince is a thankless task, but producers make horrible movies about you. To all would-be princesses out there: don't say you weren't warned.

3) If producers insist on making "royal romance" movies, why can't they show some balls and make a movie about Sweden's Prince Carl Philip and his decision to marry Sofia Hellqvist, a gap-toothed "glamour model" and former reality show contestant? Or how about a movie-of-the-week about Norway's Crown Prince Haakon, who announced his engagement in 2001 to Mette-Marit, a part-time student and former strawberry picker who was active on the Rave party circuit--and came with a three year old son fathered by an ex who did jail time for drug charges? (Mette-Marit's dad, meanwhile, married a stripper several years his junior shortly after his daughter married Haakon.) By the same token, how come nobody's made a movie yet about Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria, who found love with her former personal trainer (now known as Prince Daniel)? Now these are "royal romances" begging to be made into films!

4) Somewhere, Koo Stark is crying.

"Hey! Cinderella! Does the shoe fit you now?"

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, heavy is often the heart of the gal who marries the guy who wears the crown and, above all, SAVE THE MOVIES.

* That's what Sir John Gielgud said to Liza Minnelli in the movie "Arthur".