Like many adaptations, Red, White & Royal Blue includes several quotes lifted directly from Casey McQuiston’s beloved novel. But perhaps a less common practice in films is featuring a fake quote attributed to a beloved author in an attempt to pass on wisdom from one character to another.
Around the halfway point of RWRB, Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zahkar Perez) and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) exchange emails while Henry attends to his royal duties in the U.K., and Alex spearheads a voter registration drive in Texas, a state he hopes to help his president mother (Uma Thurman) win on Election Day. Some emails are lighthearted in nature, but they’re opening up to one another and revealing a vulnerable side, including the belief he’ll let his mother down.
“I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Sense and Sensibility,” Henry writes in one email. “‘It isn’t what we say or think that defines us but what we do.’ And I think that what you’re doing is amazing.”
It’s a nod to a section of RWRB where Henry and Alex begin quoting romantic lines found in intimate letters written by famous men to their paramours (or, in the case of Alexander Hamilton, alleged paramour) in emails they write to one another.
And in an earlier chapter, Henry—who studied English literature at Oxford—tells Alex that Austen is his favorite English author. Henry quotes Sense and Sensibility at Alex, but it’s not about combatting Alex’s imposter syndrome. The line, “You want nothing but patience—or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope,” is more about Alex and Henry’s pent-up sexual frustration and inability to act on it (because they’re thousands of miles apart) than a means of encouragement, as the film’s quoting of Austen functions.
That quote—“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us but what we do”—has been blogged about, quoted endlessly, and featured in a 2017 tweet from Waterstones celebrating Austen’s birthday. It sounds as if it could be a more flourished or antiquated way of saying a phrase like, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Jane Austen also never wrote it.
Caspar Salmon poked fun at the line on Twitter, comparing the line to the motivational phrase “Live, Laugh, Love.”
“i feel like, generally speaking, if you’re writing a huge film for a huge streaming service you should at least double check that the line you pulled from goodreads is actually in the book you’re quoting,” @stmoonsalt commented.
We reviewed three versions of Sense and Sensibility—including one on Project Gutenberg, the oldest digital library in the world that hosts free ebooks and works in the public domain—and none of them feature the phrase quoted in RWRB; none of them even contain the word “defines” anywhere in the text.
When you Google the exact phrase Henry utters, the first result isn’t a copy of Austen’s text. It’s a page from Goodreads’ Quotable Quotes section featuring the quote. The quote is attributed to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which has been liked almost 2,600 times; the earliest instance was in December 2008. According to Goodreads, quotes can be added to the site by users and aren’t verified by Goodreads; the guidelines listed in an article about submitting quotes are more concerned with avoiding duplicate quotes than accuracy.
It’s unclear how (if at all) Goodreads users can flag inaccurate or fake quotes submitted by other users.
We reached out to Goodreads and Amazon for comment.
However, it’s possible that the quote might have a potential origin point. First highlighted by journalist and author Deborah Yaffe in 2015, the quote that became popular on Goodreads and ended up in a Prime Video romantic comedy may have been a misquote from the 2008 Sense and Sensibility miniseries—which aired on the BBC over three weeks in January 2008—written by Andrew Davies.
In the miniseries’ final episode (episode 2 or 3, depending on which streaming service you’re watching it on), Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) gives the observation to her older sister Elinor (Hattie Morahan) after speaking of Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) that people are made of actions, not thoughts or words.
“It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are; it is what we do,” Marianne says. “Or fail to do.”
A publicist for Matthew López, who directed and co-wrote RWRB, told the Daily Dot that López couldn’t comment due to the ongoing Writers’ Strike. (To date, López’s interviews about RWRB have specifically been about the film’s direction, and he’s declined to speak about the script.)
We also contacted Ted Malawer, the film’s co-writer, through his publicist.
For now, it’s unclear how the fake quote ended up in RWRB. But if nothing else, it might prove that even fictional English princes are susceptible to falling for fake quotes on the internet and spreading Jane Austen misinformation.