Young Royals is a stripped back and understated teen drama. Unlike its competition in this genre, Young Royals is unafraid to present the realistic side of teenage life. TV teens are increasingly stylised and often portrayed by actors much older than their characters. The kids at Hillerska buck this trend by looking and acting like real teenagers, from visible skin blemishes, pock marks and varying body shapes to awkward sexual experiences and painful hair removal.
Written by Tresca Mallon
After a very public fight the Prince of Sweden, Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) is sent to board at the elite Swedish private school Hillerska. He begins to fall for a non-residential student, Simon (Omar Rudberg), who comes from a very different background. With constant obstacles from their families, peers and an elitist and bigoted society, their connection is constantly being put to the test.
The relationship between Wilhelm and Simon is beautifully and subtly constructed. There is a focus on the characters’ hands, eyes and intimate moments outside of sexual contact. Their chemistry is undeniable and encapsulates the excitement of first love. Creation of the core romance is strengthened by the avoidance of tired closeted relationship cliches. The coming out scenes are subtle and authentic and while the institution Wilhelm exists within is homophobic, there is no shame attached to either of boys’ feelings.
Wilhelm is the Prince of Sweden, but despite his outlandish social position his character is highly relatable. He has an inherently humble nature which is complicated by his privilege and is chronically shy which is converse to his public persona. Wilhelm craves human connection and has a sensitivity not often seen in male TV leads. He openly expresses affection through touch, not only with Simon but with his brother and other characters with whom he feels comfortable. Ryding does a fantastic job with the balancing act between awkward teen and crown prince. His naturalistic presentation comes in part from a large amount of improvisation in key scenes, such as the sequence at the football pitch which was particularly effective, humorous and heart-breaking.
While Wilhelm is the protagonist, Simon is not merely his love interest. The son of an immigrant and non-residential student, Simon’s background alienates him from his classmates. We get to know Simon through his interactions with the people in his life; his mother and sister, alcoholic father and best friends from his old school. While carrying the role of supportive son and brother, Simon struggles to find his place, caught between two worlds in which he doesn’t truly belong. Rudberg is a popular singer in Sweden and the show takes every opportunity to utlise this skill. While very cheesy, many of his singing moments give an opportunity for connection between himself and Wilhelm.
Young Royals benefits from a small but well-rounded supporting cast. Sara, Simon’s sister, is a autistic character played by autistic actress Frida Argento. This is important for representation as her disability is acknowledged early on as part of her character but does not envelope her entire subplot. Sara has an inferiority complex and is much more aware and ashamed of her social position than Simon. As the season progresses Sara is deftly developed to reflect this growing need for inclusion as she moulds herself to become a person she views as better than herself. This is an unfortunate consequence of her friendship with Felice (Nikita Uggla).
However, Sara and Felice’s relationship is one of the show’s most endearing subplots. Initially it seems as though it will follow the tired trope of privileged mean girl vs the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. However, their friendship develops into one that is truly organic and a complete subversion of the audience’s expectations. Their bond is mutual and allows Sara, who has always felt alienated, to feel included.The friendship is not only beneficial to Sara as she is a catalyst for Felice’s personal growth.In the beginning she is motivated by her insecurities and by the end of the season they are beginning to empower her.
The creative team is largely made-up of women; directors by Rojda Sekersöz and Erika Calmeyer and creators Lisa Ambjörn and Camila Holter. And this is intensely evident in the character of Felice. In a 2020 Guardian article on “the female gaze,” Gwedolyn Smith proposed that “...the best depictions of women’s bodies are not really about bodies at all, but the experiences and emotions attached to them.” Felice is a plus sized woman of colour in an elitist environment which prioritises perfection and a white European beauty standard . Her feelings of inadequacy are expressed through the painstaking process of straightening her hair, her distress at not being able to fit into her svelte mother’s clothes and her strategic social media posts. In addition, we are first introduced to her in a masturbation scene, an often taboo topic when discussing female sexuality.
August (Malte Gårdinger) is a brilliantly repulsive antagonist. Wilhelm, Simon, Sara and Felice are all outsiders in their own way. August is the ultimate insider. His inherited wealth and life of privilege are core to his identity. He is possessive not only with physical things but with people. He is obsessive when it comes to asserting his place in the upper echelons of society so when it all threatens to come crashing down he is unable to cope. His situation epitomises the pointless pageantry of class systems and facade of inherited societal positions which pervade many European societies. Despite being an unbearable and conniving snob, under the surface he is the only character that has no one to care for him. Although there is an inclination to despise him, one can’t help but sympathise with a character that ultimately has nothing.
Although the setting of Young Royals is borderline fantastical, the rawness and reality of the characters make it relatable. The absence of flash and opulence in comparison to its American contemporaries highlights the difference between expansive wealth and inherited class. Rituals, ceremonies and inherited sensibilities take precedence over possessions, which makes classism an even more of a pervasive norm in Europe. This concept is brilliantly captured in the show’s undercurrent. While this turbulent and unfair system threatens our beloved characters, the season is left open-ended and ripe for a return to Hillerska and this endearing young and royal romance.