Vanessa Hudgens, of High School Musical fame and so, so much more, is no stranger to romance – her CV makes that clear as day. In 2018, a new path was forged when The Princess Switch, a modern-day retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, was released. Here, Vanessa Hudgens pulled double duty as Stacy De Novo, a baker from Chicago, and Lady Margaret Delacourt, the Duchess of Montenaro. From their names, it’s clear that they come from different worlds, but their similar appearance is uncanny (a few choice differences in how they speak and move are able to clearly distinguish them from one another, of course). The former is just trying to blaze her way in the world and make a name for herself in the culinary world, and the latter is destined to marry the King-to-be of Belgravia and all that that entails. Of course, a love story is not complete without its love interests, and we have been blessed with two handsome, compassionate, and dedicated young men in the form of Kevin Richards (Nick Sagar) and Prince Edward Wyndham (Sam Palladio).
The movie opens in “Stacy’s Sweet Treats,” the bakery, which is owned by Stacy and where Kevin works as her sous-chef. Along for the ride is Kevin’s daughter Olivia (played here by Alexa Adeosun), who knows that her father has secretly entered Stacy into a super-famous baking competition held during the Christmas Festival in Belgravia. He did so in the aftermath of her breakup with Paul, her boyfriend whose role serves only to convince her to move on with her life and head to Belgravia for the competition. At the same time, Kevin did so in order to show Stacy that he hears her, that he understands her, and that he loves her. They’ve been friends for most of their lives, but Stacy doesn’t see him as relationship material – and not for any negative reasons, but for one of the most understandable ones. If she and Kevin get into a relationship and it doesn’t work out, more than just a romance is ended – her relationship with Olivia, her friendship with Kevin, and her working relationship with Kevin. All of it is over and done with because they tended to their feelings and irreparably destroyed everything. This is used to show that Stacy is practical but also that she has closed herself off from all manner of risk – such as going to Belgravia for the competition.
Stacy is risk-averse because the ones she’s taken have gone on to bite her in the backside. Simply by coming to this competition, she is out of her comfort zone.
On the other hand, we have the Duchess of Montenaro, the eminently capable Margaret Delacourt, who we first meet when she runs into Stacy and hatches the plan to switch places so that she can get to know the people of Belgravia before she becomes their Princess Consort and, later, their Queen. It’s a sensible idea, really, for a film.
Due to their uncanny resemblance, Lady Margaret’s personal assistant, Mrs. Donatelli (played by Suanne Braun), does some quick research and is certain that Stacy is the descendant of the Duchess’ great-grandmother’s cousin three generations back who abandoned the royal family for a “vulgar American divorcée). The possibility is enticing, but the film travels in the “found family” genre rather than “secretly related” family genre. Not that there’s a problem, it just gives the film a bit more mystery to play around with.
Margaret is a risk-taker because she has no other choice if she wants to push forward in the life that has been laid out for her. Any tiny bit of freedom is something that she has learned to grasp with both hands.
When the opportunity to switch places is presented to Stacy, she is initially hesitant about the idea – but Margaret is able to convince her to go along with it. The Royal Family should only see her during formal meals, the Prince will be out of town on business, and Mrs. Donatelli will be by her side constantly. If only all plans went as smoothly as being discussed.
We get a quick montage of Stacy and Margaret teaching one another how to pretend to be the other in what is one of the most hilarious, touching moments of the film. The two ladies have only known one another for a handful of hours, but you can already see that they are becoming fast friends. Love, at first sight, has nothing on friendship at first sight. While doing so, Prince Edward (Sam Palladio) arrives to see if her accommodations are to her liking, wherein we get our first adorable back-and-forth between the two – and no doubt one of the many reasons he decided to stay behind.
King George (played by Pavel Douglas) and Queen Caroline (played by Sara Stuart) are both very different people, ultimately after the same thing – their son’s happiness. King George is not above tasking his son’s driver Frank (played hilariously by Mark Fleischmann), with spying on him and Stacy-as-Margaret to try and figure out why she seems so odd as of late. The Queen, mind you, is more concerned with her son’s happiness than who it is with – as long as he’s happy, she is.
At the same time, Kevin is none-the-wiser to any of the differences between Margaret and Stacy, while his daughter Olivia catches on almost instantly. A handy-dandy call from Stacy-as-Margaret was the final nail in the coffin for their barely twelve-hour-old secret. Olivia is keen to play along, of course. Kevin’s inability to see the difference, mind you, is not indicative of him loving Stacy for her beauty but because he is in love with the idea of being with Stacy. He sees how she is with Olivia. They have a long-standing relationship, and taking things to the next level “makes sense” in one fashion. That he was able to find romance with Margaret-as-Stacy is a testament to his character.
The careful way the film sets up the respective couples, with Stacy challenging Prince Edward’s worldview and Margaret exposing Kevin to a more fun side that Stacy never felt she could show with him, you see their love blossom. The Princess Switch is meticulous in how it portrays its love story, the magic is clearly there, but it is resisted. Stacy knows that nothing can happen between her and Edward because he believes he is getting to know Margaret and falling in love with her. Margaret is willing to take that risk, but even she knows that Kevin believes he is getting to know Stacy beneath her armor. Both women can feel the pull of love between them and their respective partners, equally aware that it is being built on a foundation of deception.
The thing is, they aren’t pretending to be anything – outside of impersonating one another in name only – the pair can barely contain their true personalities while dealing with Edward and Kevin. Edward and Kevin may think they are spending time with Margaret and Stacy, respectively, but the film carefully conveys the truth – they are falling in love with Stacy and Margaret, respectively.
My only lingering question is. Was that nice old man played by Roan Soans actually Santa Clause?