When “A Christmas Prince” first bowed on Netflix last November, few involved with the saccharine holiday special — which gets a sequel this year in “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding”— could have predicted the warm welcome it would receive from audiences.
The streaming giant’s over-the-top response to those cheerfully nutty trifles most often confined to Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel, the rom-com — about an American journalist (Rose McIver) sent to profile a playboy prince (Ben Lamb) — at first seemed destined for a comparably short stint on subscribers’ watchlists. After all, made-for-TV movies released around the holidays have largely earned their reputation for being about as throwaway as gift wrap on Christmas morning.
But that all changed three weeks after the premiere, when Netflix’s Twitter roasted some of the movie’s biggest fans, chestnuts on an open fire-style. “To the 53 people who’ve watched ‘A Christmas Prince’ every day for the past 18 days,” read the tweet, which went viral. “Who hurt you?”
McIver wonders the same thing; speaking by phone about the original’s success as well as this year’s follow-up, the actress — best known for her role on The CW’s “iZombie” — admits she was “shocked” to realize “A Christmas Prince” had become a daily part of anyone’s holiday routine. “I can’t tell you how surprised I was,” says the actress. “I thought it’d just be a sweet holiday movie, but there are a lot of those every year. It really struck a chord.”
As Twitter collectively lost its mind over “A Christmas Prince” last winter, McIver noticed many praising the film as an exemplar of escapist entertainment; it’s that element of the story she most credits with its unexpected celebrity.
“A holiday movie is an antidote to some of the madness we hear about so often,” she says, “and this sweet and old-fashioned story, a romance of two unlikely partners who meet and fall in love . . . I think people like it as a simpler, less chaotic story for our chaotic times.”
Lamb, who plays the dashing Prince Richard, says the project helped him rediscover some of his own seasonal cheer.
“You get to see Christmas again through a child’s eyes, and I suppose that’s one of the most exciting ways to look at the holidays, with this sense of wonder,” he explains. “There’s a sense of sincerity, earnestness, and play [to “A Christmas Prince” and its sequel] that makes them attractive.”
Executive producer Brad Krevoy says he was thrilled by Netflix’s “53 people” tweet. (“I want to have those people over to my house for brunch,” he cracks.) But the Hollywood vet wasn’t surprised the film found an audience. “In my mind, Christmas movies are one of the great genres that’s overlooked in many instances by filmmakers,” says Krevoy. “I don’t know why that is, because it’s such a huge, worldwide audience in want of uplifting family entertainment.”
Filming the sequel — which picks up a year after McIver's Amber has won the heart of Lamb’s prince, as the couple prepare to tie the knot in an extravagant winter ceremony — those on set worked to retain the original’s sense of innocent absurdity, despite the newly added pressure of following up a cult hit.
Says McIver: “Working on the first film, some of the funniest moments were things we didn’t plan for at all, what with making it somewhat fast and having these old Christmas tropes popping up. I didn’t want this one to become too self-aware of its silliness.”
To that end, she avoided comparing Amber to real-life princesses, aware hewing too close to reality might break the story’s whimsical spell; though filming last summer coincided, serendipitously, with separate sovereign nuptials over in England, the script was written months prior.
“It was amazing timing,” admits the actress, who tuned in from the set in Romania as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged vows in St. George’s Chapel. “We were all weighing in on her beautiful dress. I wasn’t someone who’d followed it, which makes it even funnier this project has become such a part of my life these past two years.”
If there’s any intentional through-line with the real royal wedding, it’s that all involved hope their movie will bring similar joy to the world (or at least Netflix subscribers). It’s the right time of year for feel-good entertainment, says Krevoy; bringing some warmth into wintry households, in his mind, is the mark of every Christmas classic (his fave is 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” while McIver names 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and Lamb swears by 1990’s “Home Alone”).
“The world is a mixed-up place, and a holiday movie that just brings happiness to people is needed,” he says. “Even as a culture, I think it’s important we make movies like this.”
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
Starring: Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige. Available on Netflix Nov. 30.
Isaac Feldberg can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.