Phipps: Sir Cedric! Sir Cedric! Good news. I do believe we've found an heir!
Sir Cedric Willingham: That's wonderful, Duncan. Who is it?
Phipps: His name is Jones. Ralph Jones.
Sir Cedric Willingham: Ralph Jones... Is he everything we might've hoped?
Phipps: Well. He has his strengths and his weaknesses. You see... he's an American.
Sir Cedric Willingham: Quickly, Duncan! The strengths!After a freak accident wipes out most of the British royal family, the only heir that can be found is American lounge singer Ralph Jones (John Goodman). Accepting the job assuming he won't really have to do anything, Ralph soon learns there's more expected of him. He struggles to become a good king with the help of his chief advisor, Sir Cedric Willingham (Peter O'Toole). A burgeoning romance with Miranda Greene causes problems. She is from a working-class family and is not considered an acceptable match for a king. He also has to deal with the machinations of Lord Percival Graves (John Hurt), who is certain he could become king himself if only he could get Ralph to abdicate, and hopes to use Miranda to do so.
This film provides examples of:
- Acrofatic: Ralph is quite agile for his build.
- Adipose Rex
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Graves
- Arranged Marriage: One is planned between Ralph and Princess Anna of Finland.
- Artistic License: There are thousands of people eligible to inherit the British throne under the Act of Settlement 1701, rather than the two dozen seen here. If every single one of them was to either die or be disqualified in some way, the monarch who is most closely related would take control of the kingdom.
- Additionally, illegitimate children are disqualified from the line of succession.
- Also, Ralph and Cedric wouldn't be referred to as "the first"-there can't be a "first" monarch until there's been a second monarch with the same name (which is why Queen Victoria is just "Victoria", not "Victoria the First"). However, see "All There In The Manual" below.
- Additionally, illegitimate children are disqualified from the line of succession.
- All There in the Manual: During the closing credits, Ralph and Miranda are happily married, and are watching their young son playing a toy piano. The son is listed in the credits as "Ralph II".
- Babies Ever After
- Bad Ass Grandpa: Inspector Thomas McGuire - despite being about sixty years old, he effortlessly judo-throws the bouncer at Miranda's club when he threatens Ralph.
- Becoming the Mask: Miranda does genuinely fall for Ralph.
- Big Fun: Ralph, it's one of the reasons he doesn't mesh well with the aristocracy.
- Bookends: While watching the Royal Family's funeral outside a TV store, Dysentery asks a fellow punk why she's crying & is scolded for not having any national pride. Later, during Ralph's abdication address, Dysentery sheds Manly Tears because he liked Ralph and what he brought to the throne.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ralph.
- Disaster Dominoes: At the banquet with Finland's royal family, Ralph's attempt to cut into a roasted miniature chicken causes it to shoot off his plate, knocking over his drinking glass. The chicken and glass set off a chain reaction that topples all the other glasses from one end of the very long table to the other.
- If just one of the snooty toffs had grabbed their glass out of the way instead of squealing, it wouldn't have gone as far.
- Ermine Cape Effect: Averted. When not on state business, Ralph continues to dress the same way he used to.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Subverted. Ralph has no interest in Princess Anna.Sir Cedric Willingham: How's it going, Your Majesty?Ralph: Great. We've got nothing in common and she's got a voice like a tuba. If she had her way, we'd have sex on a bed of nails on national television. But at least the party stinks.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Miranda eventually falls for Ralph and stops doing Lord Graves' bidding. Naturally, he assumes Miranda is holding out for more money.
- Fish out of Water
- Implausible Deniability: When Ralph confronts Lord Graves -Graves: This is an outrage! A vile piece of slander! I demand to know the source of these allegations!Ralph: We have the signed confession of a royal page, Gordon Halliwell, who worked with Lord Graves.Graves: I know no such man!Ralph: And several cheques made out to the photographers who took the pictures, signed by Lord Graves. Whose fingerprints were also on the photographs.Graves: So! I saw them at the ball!Ralph: And Scotland Yard found the negatives at his house this morning.Graves: By what right can you order my arrest!Ralph: By the Treason Act of 1702, forbidding interference in the proper succession of a monarch. Enacted by...[pause, as he recites the Order of the Kings poem to himself] William the Third!
- It was actually enacted by Queen Anne, William's sister-in-law and cousin.
- Hidden Backup Prince: Ralph, and then later on Cedric.
- Knighting: Ralph almost cuts off a man's ear during the ceremony. When he gets knighted at the end, he protects both his ears.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The royal family is called the Windhams. The Finnish royal family also appears when another country's royals are needed. (In real life, Finland has never had one, being ruled instead by Sweden and then Russia-although this becomes Fridge Brilliance when you realize the filmmakers wanted to avoid upsetting any country that does have a royal family in real life.) Also with King Mulambon of Zambezi, avoiding the use of any of the three African monarchies by using a fictional country.
- Averted with Lord Graves, who is descended from the house of Stuart.
- No Endor Holocaust: Being a comedy it's sort of swept under the rug that the loss of the entire royal family at one time would be a really miserably sad time in England which would not be easy to forget-involving multiple funerals, some for children.
- Which is shown, with an absurdly long funeral parade through the streets, it's just largely glossed over.
- No OSHA Compliance: Totally played for laughs and purely as a plot device-in reality, the photographers would never have been so lackadaisical about having their electrics in several inches of water, and if so, they would need beheading on the spot!
- Odd Friendship: King Mulambon of Zambezi- a cultured intelligent man- becomes friends with the boorish but likeable Ralph. It pays off later on when Ralph is able to secure business deals with Mulambon to create thousands of jobs.
- Not really that odd. Both are very new royalty and are fed up with all the boring details of being a king. The fact that they could simply go to a pub, have a few pints, and shoot the shit is probably something most royalty would love.
- One Steve Limit: Played with: discussing the official naming of the king, Sir Cedric says he can't really think of any notable Ralphs, prompting His Majesty to rattle off a few.Ralph: Oh sure. Ralph Macchio. Ralph Lauren. Ralph Kramden...
- Rags to Royalty: Deconstructed. Ralph is unsuited for the politicking and intrigue of the royal court.
- Refusal of the Call: Cedric admits to Ralph he asked not to be given the crown, citing fear of being king and a lack of a child to continue the line.
- Requisite Royal Regalia: A ring owned by Ralph's grandmother has a duplicate, proving to him that Duncan is not pulling some prank.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Unlike current British monarchs in Real Life, Ralph is expected to be an active architect of foreign policy (even to the point of negotiating fine details of trade agreements-which he does at the end). To be fair, royalty cementing political and economic alliances through marriage (which is what is asked of Ralph) still occurs and has been occuring for centuries.
- Ruling Family Massacre: The film kicks of with one. Of the rare accidental kind.
- Smug Snake: Lord Graves.
- Succession Crisis
- Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Gender-flipped.
- There Is Another: Cedric is also a potential heir, though as he is childless and elderly, Ralph would have been king soon anyway - and it's implied that Baby Ralph might someday succeed Cedric as monarch.
- Took a Level in Badass: When the chips are down and Ralph realizes the full impact of his behavior, he shows what he can do when he takes things seriously, and delivers a Crowning Moment of Awesome in front of Parliament and the entire nation, making some amends for the job losses he caused and outing the treasonous Lord Graves, followed by a rousing and heartwarming farewell.
- Unexpected Successor: Ralph. Cedric, too. Lord Graves tries to become one.