The unstoppable rise of Prince Charming: Netflix keeps producing royal Christmas films

Here are the tropes that make them masterpieces.

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Are you an undercover journalist, rising baker, soft-hearted governess, or outspoken American looking for love? Do you like a man in uniform – one who has a dead father, a superficially strict but deep down well-meaning mother, a snooty aristocratic ex, a horse, and a strong sense of duty to his people even as he resists the trappings of royalty? Then you’re after a Netflix prince, coming soon to a screen near you. 

In 2017, Netflix broke records and healed hearts with its original holiday romance A Christmas Prince, the story of a undercover reporter who falls in love with a brooding royal. The sequel, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, was released last week, but fans have had other movies to tide them over in the meantime. Another Netflix offering, The Princess Switch starring Vanessa Hudgens and Vanessa Hudgens as two mysterious lookalikes, was released earlier this month. He was a prince. She was a spirited commoner. Can I make it any more obvious?

As Jenna Guillaume dutifully documented for BuzzFeed last year, there are at least eight other movies that feature this pauper-and-prince-at-Christmas storyline, a damning indictment of the “original” in “Netflix Originals”. Why do these films appeal so much? And how do Netflix and Hallmark’s creations differ from Disney’s classic rags-to-royalty stories?  

Owing, as we all do, a lot to Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, the modern royalmance (prince-com? unauthorised biography of my future?) must be set in a fictional European principality ending in the letters v, i, and a. There’s A Christmas Prince (henceforth ACP)’s Aldovia to The Princess Switch (TPC)’s Belgravia, clear riffs off Cabot’s New York Times’ bestselling Genovia. Some break the format: Hallmark’s A Royal Christmas, which was notably available on Netflix last year but has now disappeared (cover up? conspiracy?) is set in “Cardinia”, and therefore impure.

But what if you want to write your own record-breaking unauthorised biography of my future? There are a few rules to follow. Firstly, it is imperative that one of your love interests falls for the other because – and only because – they see them being kind to orphans. Kind to orphans! I always thought was improper! (Again, Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi did it first, in The Princess Diaries 2 in 2004.)

Orphans, they’re people too!

Secondly, you’re gonna need to get your lady love-interest on a horse. Getting on a horse when there are three footmen helping you and you’ve conveniently found some sexy jodhpurs in exactly your size shouldn’t be hard – but, what do I know, I guess it is. Like a princess pained by a pea beneath twenty mattresses, your love-interest must fall off a horse, or she is not worthy of being royal at all.

Horses: they can always tell you’re an imposter.

The most deserving princesses must be She’s All That’ed, which is to say they must be transformed from conventionally attractive women to conventionally attractive women in ball gowns, usually via the removal of their Converse. (Kooky princesses can keep them on!) If it’s meant to be, then your princely protagonist must gawp at their lady-love, as if to say: “I have seen you before, but have I ever truly seen you before? I feel like, laying eyes on your tiny waist just now, I’ve finally found someone who gets me?”Also this rebel prince should make moves to abdicate without, you know, even looking at the necessary paperwork.

Are these men attracted to these women? Extremely hard to tell.  

Some other things you might want to consider: kill the king daddy so the prince has a conflict about prematurely becoming king (after all, the existing queen – a woman – can’t rule); introduce a snooty brunette (gross!) ex who’s ruthlessly seeking the throne; make the prince teach the commoner archery because, is it hot in here or did he just touch her elbow?; and make your love interests marry after approximately four dates.

Side note: if you want to make a Netflix Christmas movie that doesn’t involve a prince (because, for some reason, I guess, you’re uncultured?) then you want to rely on two steadfast and true tropes. Firstly, one of your love interests needs to be an EXTREMELY TALENTED artist, who is struggling to do the aforementioned art because they have to work to make a living; and two, as of this year, your Netflix protagonists should be watching a Netflix movie within their Netflix movie. Really.

That’s it. Go forth. But remember: a prince is for Happily Ever After, not just for Christmas.

All images courtesy of Netflix.

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh