If Skins and Gossip Girl had a splash of The Crown, you’d have Young Royals, Netflix’s new Swedish-language series about teens at a boarding school for young elites.
The series centers on Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding), the youngest member of the Swedish royal family, who has disgraced the nation after the paparazzi caught him fighting another teen. In retaliation for his behavior, Wilhelm is sent to Hillerska, a prestigious boarding school, to shape up. Wilhelm has little interest in the school and pouts about his punishment—until he meets Simon (Omar Rudberg), a scholarship student at Hillerska, and everything changes. The two begin a clandestine relationship, but nothing stays secret for long: not when backstabbing classmates armed with cameras are lurking everywhere, and certainly not when you’re the heir to the throne.
Young Royals is somehow edgier and less flashy than its teen-drama counterparts: its subject matter is more explicit, showing what Gossip Girl could only hint at, but the stakes feel real and plausible. Wilhelm’s inner turmoil is devastating—he cares for Simon deeply, but their relationship is in direct conflict with Wilhelm’s status as the future king of Sweden, as he will eventually be pressured to find a queen. Classmates are equally infatuated with one another and driven by the power to hold others’ reputations in their hands. Hillerska’s high school hierarchy isn’t about who is queen bee or prom king, but who the actual future kings, queens, and world leaders are poised to be, and what mistakes and triumphs of their youth will haunt them as adults. Wilhelm’s desire for a life out of the spotlight, free with Simon, is a powerful and introspective conflict anchoring the show.
What makes Young Royals particularly impressive is its casting of actual teenagers—the characters may be monarchs and socialites, but they have the faces of real people, pimply and young and flawed, creating a believable world of young royals, indeed. Wilhelm, Simon, and their classmates (including Malte Gardinger as Wilhelm’s manipulative cousin, August) look like they stepped out of your local high school rather than a commercial for The CW’s fall lineup. Ryding and Rudberg in particular turn in striking, muted performances as the young lovers, and evocatively explore the blend of first love and forbidden romance demanded of them.
Wilhelm and Simon’s relationship is the most compelling thing about the series, which meanders into other, less engaging plots about Wilhelm and Simon’s classmates, including Wilhelm’s cousin August (Malte Gardinger) and his romantic pursuits. But it’s Wilhelm’s irresolvable tension between royal life and civilian love that comprises the most engaging element of the series. The main story is pointedly stronger than its subplots, but at just six episodes, it’s a fun binge. Despite being titled Young Royals, the series shines best when it focuses on just one young royal.
Young Royals is now streaming on Netflix.