Review: Hallmark's One Royal Holiday Gives Broadway Fans the Gift of One Royal Distraction
Laura Osnes, Aaron Tveit, Victoria Clark, and Krystal Joy Brown pay Hallmark a visit while Broadway is dark.
The US postal service may be on the blink, but neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of pandemic will stay Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas from the swift completion of its appointed holiday rounds. Third graders can't play Little League soccer, but Hallmark has figured out how to meet its annual quota of 40 new movies, all of which promise to be as glossy as their hundreds of predecessors not birthed amid several ongoing global tragedies.
One Royal Holiday marks the third installment of the 2020 holiday roster, debuting on October 31, and reuniting musical-theater fans with some of their most profoundly missed Broadway stars — first and foremost, Aaron Tveit's disheveled Moulin Rouge! hairdo. Run some gel through it, and a Tony-nominated starving artist turns into a taciturn prince of the northerly European land of Galwick. James, an unmarried 30-something royal, visits the States with his mother, Queen Gabriella (Victoria Clark), to thank the good people of Boston General Hospital for the excellent care they once gave James's father, the now-deceased King of Galwick (you'll have to dig into Galwickian succession law to explain the mystery of why James isn't king now). Anna (Laura Osnes) happens to be a cardiac nurse at Boston General, but does not encounter the royal family until a fated run-in at Donny's Donuts where Anna and James engage in a flirty Christmas Cruller vs. Galwickian Yule Cake debate.
Of course, if Anna knew she were speaking with royalty, she would never have made such a spirited first impression — nor would she have insisted on driving the now-stranded European travelers to her father's quaint Connecticut inn where she plans to spend the holidays (apparently the monarchs of Galwick lack the clout to call in emergency air transportation during snow storms). But with a bright-eyed endorsement from the Queen (an adorable reunion between Broadway's fairy godmother and her former Cinderella), James, Gabriella, and their security detail Christopher (Bradley Rose) hop in Anna's Honda and drive off to the picturesque town of Kentsbury.
While Anna's cheerful father Ed (Tom McGowan) greets them, the royal beans are spilled. The ensuing snowbound days are spent in close quarters where James is schooled in the ways of commoners (i.e., fuzzy socks and bed-and-breakfast chitchat), and Anna finally learns how to give some TLC to her own heart. Meanwhile, James frets over how to be personable in a Christmas speech he bombed last year and has to deliver again to the people of Galwick in just a few days (if he can make it home in time) and Anna works with her best friend and town mayor Sara (Krystal Joy Brown) to salvage Kentsbury's annual Christmas Eve Pajama Ball after snow damages the venue (Sara also uses this time to gather her rosebuds with the handsome Christopher).
When do these Broadway stars sing, you ask? We get a Tveit-Osnes duet to "Winter Wonderland" in the opening credits and a brief "Joy to the World" solo from Brown in the middle, but the cast's musical talents are mostly left under wraps (no soprano stylings from Clark, I'm sorry to report). A musical-theater substitute One Royal Holiday surely is not, but the specter of Broadway — for better or worse — hovers in the background of this Halloween-night premiere. Osnes is always the twinkling image of perfection, but her commanding presence is never displayed quite as well onscreen as onstage. Still, she fits the Hallmark bill perfectly, and though she may not be quite as quirky as the Crown Media powers that be seem to be angling for, she is endearing and lovable and wears a fabulous collection of Christmas sweaters — which, let's be real, is at least 45 percent of the Hallmark appeal. Tveit, on the other hand, gets a boost in charm up close as his stoic exterior melts under Osnes's doe-eyed gaze. His Eurocentric accent even grows more amiable over time — largely thanks to Clark who converses with him in the odd dialect and has the mystical power of elevating performances from silly to radiant.
Naturally, the movie ends with a sorrowful parting, followed by a romantic reunion — followed by my own stress-induced inquiries about quarantine mandates for international travelers between Kentsbury and Galwick. During a holiday season that will bear no resemblance to the Pajama Ball, the land of Hallmark is both uniquely out of touch and uniquely soothing. It may not be the succor everyone requires, but if you'd like to spend a few hours pretending the world can be a New England holiday card, settle into One Royal Holiday — where the only politics is small-town charm, the only contagion is Christmas cheer, and the only travel restrictions are the ones caused by blizzards and underperforming snow plows that conspire on behalf of love.