If I were to describe Netflix’s Swedish drama Young Royals in a single word, I would call it adorable. It’s got some messy moments, but everything’s delivered in a well-written manner. Not only that, I was quite surprised by the maturity the writers showed during certain pivotal moments.
This review of Young Royals Season 1 contains spoilers. You have been warned.
A show about a young queer prince being sent to a boarding school and falling in love with another (non-royal) student only to be forced to remain in the closet due to the monarchy can easily go off the rails. It’s also kind of tough to make the audience care about such privileged characters and their “rich people” problems. However, the creative team behind Young Royals was able to impressively handle the entire narrative.
It’s not a perfect show, but it’s definitely one I enjoyed a lot and I hope more folks tune in. Watching Young Royals, for me, was like reading an engrossing novel that detailed the many troubles two teen lovers had to face while belonging to different worlds.
The premise deals with Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) being sent to attend Hillerska Boarding School after he got into a fight at his “normal people” school. Being the younger prince, Wilhelm’s life’s very different from that of his older brother, the king-to-be Prince Erik. Wilhelm has more leeway in how he’s allowed to act. Also, even though Wilhelm loves his brother, it’s clear he doesn’t appreciate being compared to him every second of the day.
Wilhelm wants to live a normal life, and that’s why he was adamant about attending a normal school. But he’s got no choice in the matter (after the fight he got in at a nightclub), so off he goes to Hillerska.
At Hillerska the young prince is introduced to his second cousin named August (Malte Gardinger), a senior. August’s all about taking pride in his royal heritage and being treated as someone superior at the prestigious educational establishment. August is already close with Erik, and he wants to be close to Wilhelm, too (as that will help August’s social standing). But instead of being interested in strengthening his connection to August, Wilhelm feels drawn to non-res student Simon (singer/actor Omar Rudberg) the moment he witnessed Simon’s choir performance.
Seeing the two young teens draw closer to each other is guaranteed to make you smile. If one thing this creative team did perfectly, it’s the natural way Simon and Wilhelm fall in love. Of course, kudos to Ryding and Rudberg for doing a stellar job of selling all those “first love” emotions. I’m telling you all, their interactions are incredibly cute. You are not ready! There are secret eye glances, smiles, hand holding, little kisses… my heart!
While Simon is out as a gay teen, Wilhelm’s in the closet and still trying to make sense of his sexuality. While being in love with Simon does urge Wilhelm to start becoming more comfortable with being gay, things change for the worst when Erik dies during an accident and Wilhelm’s catapulted into the role of king-to-be. Wilhelm’s now responsible for continuing the royal bloodline and acting a certain way.
Seeing their relationship be strained because of Wilhelm’s predicament made sense to me. However, even then I loved seeing Wilhelm’s staying true to himself and standing by Simon. The scene at the stadium featuring Simon offering support to an emotionally wrecked Wilhelm was perfect!
Young Royals has a handful of scenes where Wilhelm and Simon have to go through tough situations to stay together. The two do get into arguments, but they always find their way back to each other. And while I appreciated their strong bond, as the story progressed I couldn’t help but think Wilhelm was asking too much from Simon. As a character comfortable with his sexuality, continuously being pushed to keep his romantic relationship with Wilhelm private was clearly taking a toll on him.
Simon finally standing up for himself served as another highlight in Young Royals. I loved seeing him speak his truth to Wilhelm. The young prince has got a lot of baggage, and asking Simon to stay with him while he sorted through it was selfish. The two clearly love each other, but Wilhelm needed to complete his current journey on his own. Wilhelm’s got to figure out his duty as king-to-be and how that would work with him being gay.
Simon’s decision was sad, but it was healthier than the alternative. As someone who is interested in offering support to others (including his family and Wilhelm), it was time for Simon to look out for his mental wellbeing. I’m glad he made the right choice when it mattered the most.
Simon and Wilhelm’s relationship in the first season of Young Royals was handled with a level of maturity I wasn’t expecting from a narrative starring two young queer teens streaming on Netflix. The entire arc ended up being one that grownups in real life could learn a thing or two from when it comes to unhealthy and messy relationships.
Simon and Wilhelm’s love story has clearly not ended. So, I hope Netflix decides to bring Young Royals back for a second season.
Other than the main love story, another thing I liked about this show is how the writers remembered to give characters things to do outside relationship entanglements (something Elite season 4 failed spectacularly at).
Simon, being from a normal household, has to deal with being looked down on while attending Hillerska. His views and opinions differ from the kids belonging to royal or rich families. He’s got a drunk dad. And he also has to keep an eye on his sister Sara (who has ADHD and Asperger’s). Simon’s ambitions include moving out of the small city and making something of his life. Simon’s also got two non-Hillerska-attending friends to interact with.
August’s storyline involved a father who took his own life, being financially broke, and a mother who isn’t always present for him. As someone who thinks he has to be perfect to uphold the family name, he’s under a lot of pressure. Said pressure leads him to present a very ego-centric façade and dependence on certain types of medication.
We also have Felice (Nikita Uggla), described as “modern nobility”. She’s interested in marrying Wilhelm and being part of royalty. I think her trying to deal with an overbearing parent is something many can relate to. I liked seeing her stand her ground in front of her mother and feeling more confident in her appearance and what she wanted to do in life.
A part of Felice’s storyline many won’t be able to relate to revolves around her being unable to connect with her horse. I mean, this is a show with a lot of rich kids after all. But having said that, I liked Felice as a character. She played a big role in figuring out who leaked the intimate video between Wilhelm and Simon. She’s also very accepting of Wilhelm’s sexuality even though she wanted to be with him.
Sara (Frida Argento) feels out of place at Hillerska and wants to fit in. I liked seeing Sara and Felice becoming friends. She also helped Simon find the strength in himself to start prioritizing his feelings. However, I didn’t like the mess Sara got into with August. I hope those interactions don’t continue in the second season.
So, yeah, you can see that there’s a lot more going on in this show other than just the well-written queer love story between Wilhelm and Simon. Every character got their own little arcs, which included aspects not directly connected to Wilhelm and Simon’s relationship. The show also took certain moments to talk about classism and the public’s relationship with the monarchy. This show is clearly not The Crown, and nor does it want to be. And that’s a good thing. It’s definitely more modern and unique (with the queer storyline being front-and-center).
I also appreciated the creative team staying away from making Wilhelm a bisexual character. Noting against bisexuals, it’s just that media doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to well-written bisexual representation. A number of writers end up equating being bisexual to being untrustworthy and promiscuous to cause unnecessary drama between characters. Young Royals could have easily made Wilhelm also have romantic feelings for Felice, and made her and Simon turn into emotional messes while they waited for Wilhelm to choose between them.
Created by Lisa Ambjörn, the six-episodes long Young Royals was released on Netflix on July 1, 2021. Each episode is approximately 42-minutes long. So, it’s an easy binge. Go watch it!
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Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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