The Beauty of Young Royals

Riley Justice "RJ" (she/her), Journalist

While I was surfing Netflix this summer, I came across a newly-released show called Young Royals. It initially caught my eye because of the Skam-style trailer and the prospect of a story about a Swedish prince who falls in love with another boy. As an avid Skam France watcher, lover of dramatic romances, and dedicated learner of international cultures, it seemed right up my alley. I’m not normally a big fan of television series, but I needed something moderately enjoyable to fill up the empty summer hours. I wasn’t expecting to become completely immersed and enraptured by the show, unable to stop thinking about it for months afterward. 

 

Young Royals opens with the story of a second-born Swedish prince named Wilhelm being sent off to an elite boarding school after getting into a public fight. Wilhelm goes to the school unwillingly and expects to hate it, which he does, until he meets Simon, a socialist boy who doesn’t kiss the ground he walks on simply because he is a prince. From there, Young Royals follows a complex and winding storyline about being a teenager, falling in love, and everything that comes with it. It’s an entertaining story at face value. However, there’s so much more to the show that makes it worth everyone’s time, no matter whether or not royal storylines are your thing. 

 

The most obvious and surprising draw was that all the teenagers in the show are played by real teenagers. To repeat, the teenagers in a show about teenagers are played by teenagers, not 30-year-olds with excessively defined abs. In addition to that, all the teenagers in the series have their true skin. There’s acne, blackheads, and texture galore. No makeup caking or photo brushing. It’s odd that it’s so shocking that a show about young people actually shows the reality of being a young person, but that’s the first thing I noticed about Young Royals and one of the primary things that made it so good. It was easy to relate to the characters because they looked like me. I didn’t have to try and empathize with a tall, gorgeous blonde whom, presumably, nobody liked because they wore size-13 men’s shoes (Tall Girl, I’m looking at you). 

 

The second thing that struck me so deeply about Young Royals was the comprehensive and accurate representations. Anxiety was portrayed accurately and viscerally without ever being mentioned by name in the show. It was simply shown through the small ticks and actions of the main character Wilhelm. Autism was also represented in the show by—get this—an actually-autistic actress. Neurodivergence wasn’t stereotyped or infantilized, or even spotlighted. it was just a part of a complex and real character. The same justice is given to POC characters. These representations are made possible by a diverse team behind the show that is made up of people who are part of these communities.  

 

Most prominently, however, is LGBTQ+ representation. As a queer person myself, I’m used to seeing dramatic coming out stories with violent outings and extensive sexualisation in the media. Queerness exists so much more broadly than that one narrative, and Young Royals didn’t let me down on this note. Instead of a story focused entirely about being queer, there were characters that just happened to be in love with people of the same gender. Being queer wasn’t an isolating storyline or a punchline. Young Royals also provided crucial representation for queer people who aren’t labeled, and who don’t want to be labeled. Wilhelm is specifically written to be unlabeled in the show, which is something I have never seen in a piece of media before. It shows that people can be fluid and fall in love with different people throughout their lives. It shows that people can be human without putting themselves into the boxes that society thinks they should be in. 

 

Another piece of queerness that was beautifully portrayed in Young Royals was intimacy. The queer relationship between Wilhelm and Simon wasn’t sexualised in the slightest. Instead, it was made up of small, quiet moments like linking pinky fingers and hesitant first kisses and trying to hug on a twin sized bed. This gentle intimacy is rare and sacred in media, especially for queer relationships. And the attention given to this relationship was extended to all the others in the show, romantic and otherwise. 

 

Netflix hired an intimacy coordinator for Young Royals, which is a position whose sole purpose is to construct and choreograph physical scenes between characters and ensure the comfort of actors. It sounds small, but it made a world of difference in the show. All of the physical scenes are natural and performed with care. This extends from realistically-awkward sex scenes all the way to the cautious hug of an estranged father and his son. Every moment is precise, deliberate, and honest. 

 

I should also note that this series was largely written and produced by women, and it shows. The relationships between female characters aren’t petty and mean just to entertain and cause drama. Sex is treated with a sensitivity that male writers typically ignore in favor of including sexual escapades and toxic masculinity. Female characters aren’t treated like objects to be pretty or added simply to provide plot points. The main plot conflicts aren’t miscommunication or cheating. The scripting is considerate of all the characters and their individual goals, and doesn’t leave room for harmful stereotypes like “the gay best friend” or “the skinny blonde mean girl.” Instead, there is true genuineness to each character, scene, and interaction. 

 

Why is this all so important? Because Young Royals completely reinvents teen drama. It shifts it away from trifling and repetitive plot lines, and moves it towards something that feels real and authentic. The beauty of Young Royals is that it, despite being set in a high stakes environment with kids who are wealthy and privileged, is relatable and heart-wrenching to people from any background. 

Not convinced? My one last bonus of Young Royals is that all the actors are incredibly good-looking. If that won’t compel you to watch it, then I don’t know what will.

 

FLAGSTAFF CONTEST PRIZE RECIPIENT  

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