This is Fiona, who’s flanked by goonish fashion victims – much like yourself in Coppers

Patrick Freyne: The Princess Switch films celebrate Yuletide tat and aristocratic grandeur

Princess Switch: Netflix’s Christmas kingdoms must have Vanessa Hudgenses as far as the eye can see

Princess Switch: Netflix’s Christmas kingdoms must have Vanessa Hudgenses as far as the eye can see

 

I love Shakespeare’s history play cycles. I especially love the one that goes: Richard II, The Princess Switch I, The Princess Switch II and The Princess Switch III. Okay, I lie. The Princess Switch films are actually part of the MCU, the Monarchic Christmas Universe, an unhinged celebration of Yuletide tat and aristocratic grandeur that can be found every winter on Netflix.

It includes the aforementioned Princess Switch films, the Christmas Prince franchise and, more recently, A Castle for Christmas, starring Brooke Shields (Brush’s sister) and featuring cameos from characters in the Princess Switch movies. For a nation founded on the basis of kicking out a monarch, the Americans sure love the idea of being ruled by a monarch.

Nothing truly bad happens in the MCU, unless of course you count the historic crimes that led to the royal protagonists’ wealth, and we do not, because what are we, communists? No, in the MCU there are no politics, and mild peril and gentle villainy are vanquished by romance and the Christmas spirt.

The much-vaunted Netflix algorithm has broken my spirit to the extent that I now watch anything it suggests. So cloning Vanessa Hudgens? I wouldn’t put it past it

Let us discuss the geography of the MCU. In the first Princess Switch, Vanessa Hudgens plays a baker from Chicago who travels to the state of Belgravia and is mistaken for her identical double, a princess in neighbouring Montenaro. The Christmas Prince films take place in another statelet, called Aldovia. The people of Montenaro have a rivalry with the people of Penglia (see: Princess Switch: Switched Again). Meanwhile, A Castle for Christmas takes place in another makey-up-place called “Scotland”, for which they have gone so far as to create a whole accent.

Aldovia, Montenaro, Belgravia and Penglia, I learned from a map displayed in a previous film, are all somewhere in the Balkans. All of the citizens in these countries have English accents and work primarily in Christmas-themed industries – the production of candy canes, the maintenance of skating rinks, the impersonation of Santa Clauses, the whittling of wooden toys of the sort no child wants, choral singing, alcoholism. Basically they are all good models for a post-Brexit economy. Boris Johnson will soon be announcing asymmetrical trade deals with them.

The Princess Switch films, in particular, are based on the principle that there are many Vanessa Hudgenses and that this is a good thing. Look, maybe there actually is more than one Hudgens. The much-vaunted Netflix algorithm has broken my spirit to the extent that I now watch anything it suggests. So cloning Hudgenses? I wouldn’t put it past it.

The cast is padded out with non-Hudgenses playing various confused servants and nonplussed love interests. Their main job is to do double takes and look baffled, which I find very relatable. As a 46-year-old man, I spend a lot of my time doing double takes and looking baffled. So I might as well be doing so because there are a surplus of Hudgenses and those Hudgenses have been switched. Historically the existence of exact doubles was considered uncanny and the province of horror stories. Here the characters just roll with it and don’t probe too much. A lesson for us all.

In the Princess Switch II: 2 Many Hudgenses, three distinct Hudgenses were established. There is Margaret, the hereditary queen of Montenaro, a prim Hudgens who doesn’t know any of your pop music and dresses like Jackie O. There is Stacy, who is American and thus “normal”. She takes it completely in her stride that she is now married to the king of Belgravia because she’s American and thus feels that all good things that happen to her are just manifest destiny. And then, finally, there is Fiona, a platinum-blond influencer/socialite/criminal Hudgens who walks about flanked by goonish fashion victims, much like yourself in Coppers.

As is the wont of liberal Hollyweird, the creators of the MCU have done their best to keep religion out of their Christmas films. Chris isn’t even mentioned once. That said, the concept of three persons in one Hudgens does feel quite biblical. And in the new Princess Switch film, The Princess Switch III: Hudgenses on Patrol! Queen Margaret is welcoming a delegation from the Vatican who have brought a relic they want displayed on the royal Christmas tree. That’s the sort of thing the Vatican does when not covering up crimes, apparently.

My only note is: there could be more Hudgenses. Are we sure three is enough? I hope for a day when this franchise stars nothing but Hudgenses

The relic is a big spiky glittery thing, a bit like a baroque star or a glamorous new variant of Covid. It was, we are told, once owned by Santa. The cardinal calls Santa “St Nicholas”, but we know what he’s at. He’s rebranding Catholicism as the “fun” religion in which God is called Daddy G and Jesus is called Chuckles.

Margaret welcomes the cardinal to her Christmas tree-strewn palace. Each room we see has more Christmas trees than the last. Margaret is basically a Christmas-tree hoarder, each room lined with the murdered corpses of trees. Between that and Christmas lights that can be seen from space it’s clear the Montenaran royal family hate the environment very much. It is soon revealed that if Margaret loses the relic she will be excommunicated. (The Balkan Christmas kingdoms are all Catholic, apparently.)

Of course, a nefarious jewel thief steals it, and Margaret and Stacy must investigate with the help of Fiona, now doing community service at a convent for her crimes in a previous instalment. I can’t remember what those crimes were, but it may have been murder.

Because Margaret is queen she can subvert the justice system in so far as it relates to her relatives. Amnesty International would orchestrate a letter-writing campaign if the Montenaran monarchy would read anything other than Christmas cards. Fiona uses her crime-world connections to ascertain the whereabouts of Santa’s beloved bauble.

Before long the Hudgenses and their various loved ones are involved in a delightful Christmas heist, much like that cuddly yuletide heister of yore, Hans Gruber. Their heist does not involve machine-gunning men in vests, however. It involves switching identities for reasons that don’t need to make sense, entering a tango competition, traversing a room filled with laser-triggered alarms and falling in love with dashing superspies. I have no problem with any of this.

My only note is: there could be more Hudgenses. Are we sure three is enough? I hope for a day when this franchise stars nothing but Hudgenses and it resembles those Minions films, but with Hudgenses. Hudgenses as far as the eye can see. Hudgenses all the way down.

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