How a Netflix series about the Swedish monarchy became an international sensation
Warning: The following contains spoilers from “Young Royals” Season 2.
Edvin Ryding and Omar Rudberg will never forget their first chemistry read for Netflix’s “Young Royals,” the hit Swedish series about a crown prince who falls in love with another male student at their prestigious boarding school, Hillerska.
Having exchanged no more than pleasantries, Ryding and Rudberg were asked to perform a scene in which their respective characters, Prince Wilhelm of Sweden and Simon Eriksson, are hanging out in the school library in the early stages of their courtship. At one point, Ryding decided to lie down in Rudberg’s lap; Rudberg instinctively began running his fingers through Ryding’s hair. “We never really got to know each other as Edvin and Omar; we got to know each other as our characters first,” Ryding tells The Times in a video interview.
The immediacy of their connection has made “Young Royals,” which returns for its sophomore season on Tuesday, a smashing success. The show’s debut season, which reached Netflix’s top-10 list in 12 countries and recently won the top prize at Sweden’s Kristallen Awards, found Prince Wilhelm navigating a forbidden romance with working-class classmate Simon — and the rose-colored haze of first love — in the shadow of his responsibilities to the crown after the tragic death of his older brother, Erik (Ivar Forsling).
“Wilhelm is raised in an environment where it’s a lot about façade — about portraying one thing and then having a pretty different life behind closed doors — and that does something to your integrity,” says Ryding, who likens Wilhelm’s struggles to those of Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) in HBO’s “Succession.” “Simon is very open and very transparent and still has a very strong integrity. Wilhelm respects that a lot, and that’s what he’s drawn to at first.”
In 2019, while working together on the Swedish drama “Sjukt,” executive producer Lars Beckung pitched head writer Lisa Ambjörn an idea in the same vein as “Riverdale” or “Élite,” about a young, potentially queer prince who becomes implicated in a murder. Ambjörn retooled the premise, choosing to tell a queer coming-of-age story that is also an examination of the social class structure and enduring institutional power of the monarchy in Sweden.
“We’ve been very clear from the start that Wilhelm’s problem is not that he is queer, but that he’s the prince of Sweden,” says Ambjörn, whose past work has explored the inner lives of the working and lower-middle classes. “His love for Simon makes him reexamine and think about every expectation that is brought upon him.”
After Wilhelm’s Machiavellian second cousin, August (Malte Gärdinger), leaked the couple’s sex tape and threw their lives into disarray at the end of last year, the new season finds Wilhelm and Simon on different pages about the state of their relationship after the winter break. While Simon attempts to move on with a charming family friend named Marcus (Tommy Wättring), a lovesick Wilhelm — who begins to address his mental health issues but still feels bound to the procedural nature of his royal duties — seems intent on exacting revenge on the relatives who drove a wedge between him and Simon.
But from the moment Wilhelm and Simon lock eyes at a party in the new year, “they cannot let each other go, and they are deeply in love,” Rudberg says. “And whatever they do, it will not make them forget the love that they have for each other and what they’ve been through together.”
“This is the first time that Wilhelm has ever felt like, ‘I can be whoever I want to be with this guy,’” adds Ryding, who admits that he struggled to understand Wilhelm’s actions this season until he realized how lonely he felt at Hillerska. “Obviously, it comes with complications, but he still feels like, ‘When I’m with Simon, I feel free, and I’ve never felt that before,’ so I think that’s what he’s chasing. It’s almost like an addiction, but that’s what love is too. It’s like the greatest addiction in the world.”
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Last fall, Ambjörn approached music supervisor Magnus Palmborg about creating a modern take on the school’s traditional choir song, which Simon would write and perform in the show. Ambjörn and Palmborg wrote the song themselves, and Rudberg — a former member of the boy band FO&O who has now launched a solo career — was immediately sold on the idea and even rearranged his schedule a couple of weeks ago to record an extended version for release.
For his part, Ryding first heard the song while shooting the Valentine’s ball in the fourth episode; he even asked the director if he could duck out while she filmed other angles of the scene because he wanted Wilhelm’s reaction to be genuine. “It says a lot that Wilhelm doesn’t realize immediately that it’s about him, because this is the prime way for Simon to communicate what he’s feeling towards Wilhelm,” Ryding explains. “Wilhelm is so obsessed with himself and his own problems that he doesn’t see it from the bigger picture.”
The fourth episode is a major turning point for Wilhelm and Simon; in a moment of weakness outside the ball, they kiss for the first time since their breakup. “Even though Simon knows that it’s wrong, and he knows that he is there with Marcus and he has been saying no to Wilhelm, I just think it’s so beautiful that they just have to feel each other,” Rudberg says with a smile. “They’re still teenagers, and they cannot think about what’s wrong or right.”
As in many of their scenes this season, Ryding and Rudberg were given the freedom to improvise the moments between kisses — their relieved smiles and laughs, the natural movement of their hands — which, they say, is a testament to their rapport and understanding of the characters. “This season, we feel way safer with each other,” Ryding says, “and that creates an environment where you’re able to have fun.”
The season finale brings multiple conflicts to a head. Instead of going to the police to press charges against August, who is now second in line for the throne, which would tear their families apart further, Simon agrees to date Wilhelm in secret. But at the school’s centennial celebration, Wilhelm goes off script and, much to the horror of the royal court, admits to being the other student in the intimate video with Simon.
Instead of giving a “coming-out speech,” Ambjörn wanted to show Wilhelm “breaking the circle of codependency” in his family. “But it’s not like a big, American, ‘Yay, you’ve said it! Everything’s good!’ He gets that little moment with Simon, but then he turns back and takes in the room, and he’s like, ‘Oh s—,’ like a teenager would,” she says.
“That [final] look is saying, ‘I’m in control. This is me. I’m queer. I’m in love with this guy, and I’m prepared to face whatever is coming next.’ It’s a very ‘Let’s start a revolution’ kind of moment,” Ryding says with a laugh. “In my mind, Wilhelm wants nothing more than being able to face these things with Simon. … I guess the big question is, can Wilhelm and Simon handle that together?”
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Living a teenage dream
Since the debut of “Young Royals” 16 months ago, Ryding and Rudberg have shot to international prominence, amassing a combined total of more than 4 million followers across Twitter and Instagram. Although the response has been overwhelmingly positive, the two have confided in each other about the importance of setting boundaries and not letting strangers define their self-image.
Though Rudberg, who has struggled with hateful online comments in the past, had braced himself for negativity, he and the rest of the cast have been touched instead by the series’ ability to reach LGBTQ people of different cultures and generations. “I think it’s beautiful that we have ‘Young Royals,’ ‘Heartstopper,’ and a few other shows that are able to actually portray beautiful queer love to a young audience today,” says Ryding, who recently encountered a queer man in his 60s who had tearfully binged the show and marveled at the significant strides in representation.
There are young viewers around the world who have come out or “found partners or a sense of community through our show,” but there are also older ones “who had these kinds of secret relationships in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s even,” Ambjörn recalls. “There was one person who wrote: ‘I had a love story that I never got to actually explore. I never got the teenage dream, and I felt, when I watched ‘Young Royals,’ I got that.’”
As for where “Young Royals” goes next, from the future of Wilhelm and Simon’s relationship to the inevitable royal fallout from his break with tradition, Ambjörn insists that “it’s up to the Netflix gods” whether there will be a third season. “I can tell you that I’ve had the last image for the entire story in my head for a very long time, and I can’t say if that’s [in] Season 2 or not,” she says coyly. “When you’re doing character studies like these, when it’s not down to the plot, I think there is a lot more that I want to tell. … It just feels like a constant creative flow, and unless you are forced to stop it, you don’t stop.”
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17)
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