A Royal Runaway Romance

” So You Went and Fell in Love with a Princess.”

A royal on a road trip. What could go wrong? This one was ripe for every cliche in the book being a mash-up of two popular Hallmark tropes. But it was actually pretty good. Yes, we had a festival, S’mores at the fireside, save the Bed-and-Breakfast, and a ranch family reconciliation, but thanks to excellent rapport and chemistry between the two lead characters it was slightly above average for me.

The Princess of Bundleberry? Burberry? (obviously not an eastern or southern European  country because it doesn’t end in “ia”) falls for the Chicago, America artist who is painting her portrait. When he goes back home, she schemes to follow him by visiting her Uncle in California. Once in California, her passport is confiscated (S.O.P. for royals in case they want to fly the coop) and she is forced to drive instead of fly to Chicago where the supremely barely interested artist is having a showing. Meanwhile, she is assigned a bodyguard/watchdog. Her Uncle sympathizes with her predicament and gives her his blessing to follow her heart, as he once did, and hires the reluctant (he’s about to go on vacation) bodyguard to drive her across the American west to Chicago (in a gorgeous vintage Mustang) to see if there is a future with this artist fellow. Of course,  the alert viewer understands that there is no chance of this thanks to many clues.

A couple of things pulled this out of the mire. First, the princess, played by newcomer Philippa Northeast, who started out stiff and boring, really opened up once she started experiencing “typical” American culture. Her enthusiasm and embrace of diners, food, festivals, salt of the earth Americans, and the beautiful expanse of the United States was very endearing. The romance going on between her and the bodyguard was well constructed. In addition to the fun they have along the way, they also have a few serious conversations that contribute to their friendship and understanding. He always maintains his professionalism despite being friendly and nice so there was a slow burn thing going on. There is the anticipation of her reunion with the artist and what’s going to happen. We know he was just casually flirting with her in Buttleberry and he is more involved with his career than with a relationship with her. His cavalier treatment was a stretch since he probably owed his current popularity to painting her portrait, she is beautiful and nice, and he is single. We know he is not gay, because that role is filled by the understanding Uncle. Yet he disses her every step of the way, not even returning her calls.  You gotta kind of admire his chutzpah, actually.

I need not say more about how this all plays out except to say it is a much better ending than Roman Holiday.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 14, 2022

The Winter Palace

Surprisingly Watchable

Plot-wise, this was a garden-variety example of the royal/commoner romance plot. Danica McKellar is a new author with one successful novel who is being pressured to submit her second romance novel per her contract. Predictably she has writer’s block and is given the opportunity to be a caretaker at a remote lodge in the mountains to write in some peace and quiet. No, it’s not haunted and she doesn’t turn into a homicidal maniac. Sorry to disappoint. It’s a teeny-tiny little lodge (or very large cabin), hardly The Overlook Hotel or a “Winter Palace” per the rendering on the poster. The owners are European and haven’t been there for years. All she has to do is knock the icicles off the eaves, take care of the furnace, and find her inspiration to honor her contract. The owner shows up unexpectedly and it’s a prince with his two minions.

This was watchable thanks to Neal Bledsoe who played the prince. He was very attractive and had a lot of charisma. He also had a personality, starting off snooty and entitled and loosening up slowly but surely while becoming enamored of Danica. The two actors had a nice rapport going throughout. Danica was not bad in this one. Despite the usual, and I do mean usual, roadblocks, it all proceeds to a happy ending and I liked the resolution to the “how can an American romance novelist find happiness with a Concordian King” dilemma.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 25, 2022

Fit for a Prince

So Bad It’s Almost Good. No, Not Really, It’s Just Bad.

Cindy Cordella is a seamstress at premier dress designer Rebecca’s dress shop. Little does anyone know that it is Cindy the Drudge who is doing all of the dress designing without proper recognition. Rebecca’s shop is hired to do the dresses for the wedding of the year that Prince Ronan is expected to attend. Cindy hopes that if she does a good job her loyalty will be rewarded. Prince Ronan visits the shop, meets Cindy, and they hit it off much to the displeasure of two jealous females. Does this sound familiar?

I guess someone there at Hallmark supposes that the narrow-chested, delicate, bland looks of the actor who played Prince Ronan convey an aristocratic aura because this is the second time he has played a prince. To me, he is miscast as a romantic lead unless it is in a romantic dark-horse underdog role. The testosterone is low in this one. And I don’t always prefer a Steve Bacic or a Ben Ayers, Kris Polaha, or Antonio Cupo. I also like sweet and funny types like Luke Macfarlane and Paul Campbell.

Now on to Natalie Hall. Apparently, Hallmark has decided that she is the go-to female lead when youth and prettiness are required. And when I say youth, I mean closer to 30 than 40 or 45. Unfortunately, she has little else to offer. She’s not bad but nothing to be especially worthy of scoring 6 Hallmark lead roles in 2 years. The usual Hallmark work-horses had better watch their backs even though most of them have more acting talent, charm, appeal, and charisma despite their age.

Others have pointed out many of the ridiculous plot points that abound in this disaster. Tip: Don’t eat greasy pizza while handling your dress materials. Tip: don’t roll your rack of dresses anywhere near a chocolate fountain. But their ballroom dance at the end was my pick for “most cringe-worthy scene.” It looked like a losing effort on Dancing with the Stars. I thought it couldn’t get worse until she broke into a solo routine that would have embarrassed famous bad dancer Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. I thought at one point she was going to drop to the floor and twirl around on her butt. The worst thing in the whole mess was the lack of resolution to the mismatch of how a King was going to unite with an ambitious workaholic partner in a global corporation. It’s scary to think this one might need a sequel.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

March 9, 2021

Christmas With a Crown

Save the Library

This is a no more than serviceable Prince Pretending to be a Commoner in America story. He is visiting a small town trying to discover the true meaning of Christmas, so camouflaged as it is in the palace by meaningless tradition and formality. He goes to the town where a late former friend of his mother lived and that to him embodies the spirit of Christmas via her letters to his mother, the queen. He gets on the wrong side of a woman who is trying to save the local library by reviving her mother’s yearly project, the Winter Fest. Her mother, it turns out, just happens to be the woman whose letters to his mother have brought him to town.

Teryl Rothery plays the queen, who is pretty unpleasant throughout almost the whole movie. Marcus Rosner, a Hallmark veteran is good as the square-jawed dimpled prince. He was princely. I actually liked his use of a quasi-English accent when in his prince persona and an American accent when in disguise. Unfortunately, the actress who played his love interest was not a good match, in my opinion. For one thing, she seemed too mature and worldly-wise to be a romantic lead for a prince in disguise in Small-Town U. S. A. The character got on my bad side right away by foolishly turning down his enthusiastic offer of help with saving the library because he was a visitor and not “part of the community.” Especially since No One in the Actual “Community” stepped up to the plate. Everyone had an excuse.

There is a priceless scene near the end of the movie where Queen Teryl orders Prince Nicolas to kneel before her and pulls out a crown that looks like it was snagged from the Burger King mascot. She **spoiler alert**coronates her son right there in the middle of Winter Fest. I’m not sure whether this added a star to my rating or subtracted a star. But one thing for sure, Teryl and Marcus looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 14, 2021

Royally Wrapped for Christmas

That’s a Wrap!

This took the corny fairytale aspects of the heavily clichéd royal plotline to a new level. It was enjoyable. If you were 10. I checked this out solely because of Brendan Fehr who has had a lot of chemistry with his costars and lots of charisma on his own in the two other movies I have seen in him.

In this one, Jen Lilley plays the head of the New York branch of the royal charity of Veronia. The prince visits one day incognito and they are both secretly smitten. Next thing you know, she is invited to Veronia along with the Dublin head and the Mumbai head to help with the 100th anniversary of the Christmas charity. Little do they know that they are being screened to see which one of these top performers gets the big promotion to the worldwide director of the charity.

I won’t go further into the plot, but rest assured it involves a disapproving Queen, an unwelcome arranged marriage, heartwarming interactions with the peasant children, a cheating rival, a supportive friend, a Gala ball, and a public proposal of marriage despite not even a kiss. That’s all fine. I didn’t expect anything different. However, Jen Lilley and the character she played got on my last nerve. I am usually fairly neutral about her as an actress, but this one really highlighted why she is not a favorite. Her character was so humble and self-effacing she came across as more of a spiritless victim who wouldn’t say boo to a goose than an intelligent capable woman. I can’t really be mean about the actress, because that is the part she was playing, after all. But let’s just say she was perfectly cast. No one can do self-deprecating and shy, with those huge goo-goo eyes, like she can. The character was so kind, so sweet, and so gentle that if I had been the prince I would have wondered what she was up to. At one point her colleague says, “Stop making yourself so small!” Thank-you! In a few scenes, she even comes across as disingenuous. GAC had a strong start this season, but as Hallmark is well aware, you can’t win them all!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 29, 2021

A Christmas in Royal Fashion

Mis-Cast

I know this was a fairy tale-type movie, so I won’t criticize all of the unlikely events that occur. In fact, I enjoyed the ending where they provided a book end to the story to match the “This is a fantasy-don’t judge us” beginning.

My main problem was with the casting and the acting of Diarmaid Murtagh who played the prince. I should probably blame the director rather than the actor, though. The character was supposed to be an immature and devil-may-care international playboy. That’s why King sent him to America in place of the ambassador: to learn some responsibility. First off he was too old for the part of an immature scamp who needed to grow up and get his priorities in order. And once he got to America, he had a personality transplant and acted like he had a stick up his you-know-what the whole time. And he acted like he had never been out of the castle. Oooooh…The Ocean. Hardly an international playboy. He might make a good Viking,

but as a suave handsome prince, he was a bust. You know how they say, “He cleaned up well!” ? Stay with the bedraggled Barbarian thing, Diarmaid.

Cindy Busby was likable as usual, as a girl who just wants to do the right thing and a good job, but gets caught up in an embarrassing and career-wrecking situation of her own making.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

November 14, 2021

Christmas With a Prince: The Royal Baby

Silly and Laborious

This was very silly. The script was silly, some of the acting was silly, and the production values were lacking, which made some of the scenes silly. I’ll deal with the production values first. At one point, we see the hospital where (spoiler alert!) Dr. Tasha our American princess heroine is having her baby. The smoke or steam from a chimney is frozen in midair and not wafting upwards. Obviously, a photograph stuck in front of the camera. And what was Dr. Tasha wearing during a TV interview? A green dress, red shoes, and a yellow hat? Why? Was she impersonating an elf? They didn’t have any clothes in the wardrobe department that went together? The 3rd strike on the cheap budget issue was the fact that one of the main characters, Charles Shaughnessy was seen entirely on video. Even when he was supposed to be in the same building, they talked to him via an electronic device. In the one scene where they couldn’t get around not having his presence (the baptism), he was obviously put in via green screen or some other movie trick. Covid? I guess? But they could have made it more seamless. This was definitely phony-looking. The weird thing was that some of the sets were very lavish looking and authentic. And most of the other wardrobe was unobjectionable.

The acting of two of the actors trying to be funny was laughable. In that they were not funny. Specifically, the actor who played Dr. Tasha’s brother, and the actor who played Blevins, Prince Alexander’s butler(?) courtier(?) Major Domo(?). Their mugging should have been taken down a couple of notches by the director. Speaking of acting, was Princess Tasha having (spoiler alert!)  babies or did she have a cramp in her toe? And speaking of giving birth, No one, including Dr. Tasha or her obstetrician knew she was having (spoiler alert!) twins until the second one popped out? I won’t belabor the silliness of that like I won’t mention the silliness of the possibility of declaring a hospital room part of another country.

I will mention one more silly scene. Nurse Jeff puts an engagement ring into a cup of tea and leaves it on the counter. A hospital employee drinks the tea and just leaves the cup in the sink with the ring still in it. I hope neither of these two is allowed around sick people.  Sorry, one more scene. OK, so Dr. Tasha, who is a highly educated, sophisticated, and worldly woman who has been a princess for over a year, has to be taught table manners before she is allowed to go back to visit her own country? (Don’t reach across the table to grab the roll with your bare hands! Use the tongs!) I admit, although I saw the first one in this trilogy I don’t remember it. And I haven’t seen the second one in the trilogy. But I don’t think it was established that Dr. Tasha was born in a barn.

The main conflict had to do with the king not knowing a girl baby would be able to inherit the throne. He kept insisting the boy was born first even though he was told the girl baby was born first numerous times. I won’t spoil how all that was resolved.

All in all, although I am used to overlooking ridiculous aspects of  Christmas movies no matter what the network and still enjoying them, this one was just too dumb.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 14, 2021

The Firebird

By Susanna Kearsley

“Hiding the person you are,’ he said, ‘won’t make you happy. I never hide who I am. What I am.”

Having read The Winter Sea, I was looking forward to The Firebird because I was very interested in knowing what became of Anna, the daughter of the protagonists in Slains #1, and hoped for a glimpse or two of them. I was also excited that the character of young Rob from the first book I read by this author, The Shadowy Horses, was a player in this one. It does deliver in that regard, but I wish she had incorporated some of the contemporary players in The Winter Sea and more than just Rob of Shadowy Horses as well. Although the book kept me interested as far as the historical part of the dual timeline, It was ultimately a bit of a letdown. Kearsley is so meticulous about her historical research and so careful to be faithful to her real but little-known actors on history’s stage, that her plot and character development took a distant second in this one. Every single person in this book actually existed except Anna herself, and a few stray innkeepers and such. Wikipedia got a good workout by me, and her historical notes at the end actually expose what contributed to the weakness of this book. Having to be faithful to all that she discovered in original source materials put too many constraints on what SK could actually do with the character and plot.

The contemporary part of the story did not rescue it. It was dull, except for a brief little unexpected discovery at the end, and very repetitive. Unlike The Winter Sea, it did not join past and present together in a big emotional wallop. There were a lot of loose ends. Nicola’s fascination with a certain painting at the Hermitage which was set up like it was going to be responsible for some kind of revelation was just dropped cold. It felt rushed, and left some pretty gaping plot holes. The heroine was irritating and nonsensical, and our Rob, from The Shadowy Horses, was nice, and grew up to be a fine young man, but there was no suspense or conflict in the relationship.

There were flashes of excellence in this book, and I can’t give it less than a 3 because I have so much respect for Kearsley’s writing and her hard work. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2016

American Royals

by Katharine McGee

I guess this must have been a YA novel and it was too juvenile for me. I thought it might be like The Royal We. It was an intriguing concept which kept me interested for a little over a hundred pages but then I just got bored with the characters, the very jejune romances and conflicts, and the sheer predictability of it. Then, when I realized the author was going to spread this over more than one book when it was barely filling up one, I skipped through to the end. This one ended with a real cliffhanger. Nothing was resolved at all. And I predict the villain is going to be rehabilitated and find happiness in one of the follow-ups. I think this series would probably be fine for romance-minded teens, but I will not be reading anymore in the series.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 16, 2019

Christmas at the Palace

One Royal Romance too Many (I Wish)

Could this movie be anymore Hallmark cookie cutter? No, it could not. All of the characters came out of the Hallmark hero and heroine, best friend, child playbook without a bit of alteration. There was not an original second in the whole movie. What gave it a 4? The Prince was very handsome. The princess was a beautiful child. Merritt Paterson was not annoying and was age appropriate for her character, though she was too heavily made up. The setting was pretty. Also, it did not feature a mean royal fiancé or mother. That’s all. Hallmark needs to find a new gimmick. I’m sick and tired of the commoner and the royal fall in love trope.**4 out of 10 stars**

December 8, 2018