Is love strong enough to unite a divided society? In the Bridgerton universe, the answer is a resounding “yes” – regardless of evidence pointing to “no” in the real world. For a romantic drama, it’s a sweet and simple enough concept. And with Bridgerton’s first two seasons occupying two of the three top spots on Netflix’s all-time English-language viewing chart, expansion was only a matter of time. Queen Charlotte is Shonda Rhimes’s first attempt at building on the swooning success of the Regency-era show. As a prequel, it explores the queen consort’s rise to power in the British royal family and across wider society as a Black woman from overseas. (A novel concept, indeed!) And before detractors can even raise a thumb to tweet their disapproval of the show’s use of creative licence, the voice of high-society informant Lady Whistledown opens the series. “This is the story of Queen Charlotte from Bridgerton,” Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) declares. “It is not a history lesson; it is fiction inspired by fact.” History buffs duly warned, the series whisks viewers away into the sumptuous story.
India Amarteifio plays the young Charlotte, with Bridgerton’s Golda Rosheuvel appearing as her older self in a series of flash-forwards. Like her predecessor, Amarteifio portrays Charlotte with a haughty botheredness that is irresistibly fun to watch – eye rolls and stiff upper lip included. Aged just “seven-and-10”, she is shipped from Germany to England to wed the young, newly crowned British king, George III (Corey Mylchreest). It’s safe to say she’s not pleased with her brother and guardian’s decision to marry her off. On the journey to the palace, she considers impaling herself on her own corset to curtail her marital fate while she has the chance.
“No one who looks like you or me has ever married one of these people,” she complains. It’s a detail not missed by the King’s court, who make no attempts to hide their surprise at the soon-to-be Queen’s “darkness”. Upon their first meeting, George’s mother, the Dowager Princess (a suitably snippy Michelle Fairley), even rubs her cheek to see whether any colour would transfer to her fingers. Plus, since no one will give her any useful hints about the spouse that awaits her, Charlotte fears the worst.
Yet, when she runs into George during a last-minute bid to escape, Charlotte’s worries are quickly quelled. Instead of the troll she dreaded, it turns out that her new partner is, actually, rather dashing. As is par for the course in Rhimes properties (think Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy), the new couple’s first meeting is filled with promise and sizzling eye contact. The flash-forwards let the viewer know that real love and appreciation will eventually blossom between the pair – but soon after their wedding, it becomes clear that their road to romance will be far from smooth.
Meanwhile, the palace spins the familial integration into something the whole country can learn from and bestows honours upon other non-white members of society. Young Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) is particularly thrilled by this development and sets about making sure that there’s real change for people of colour in 1770s London, rather than just words. Like Adjoa Andoh’s older Lady Danbury, Thomas is a scene-stealer, consistently delivering her lines with punch and wry wit.
With classical renditions of pop hits aplenty and no shortage of steamy bedroom romps, Queen Charlotte delivers everything a Bridgerton fan could want, with touches of social commentary that feel refreshing, rather than preachy. If this series is an indicator, the Bridgerton-verse will continue to top the Netflix ratings – and for good reason.
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