Why you should be watching Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
James R | On 08, May 2023
From Stranger Things to The Witcher, Netflix has made no secret of its aim to build franchises from its most popular programmes. It was only natural, then, that the Regency juggernaut Bridgerton should get its own spin-off – and, if anything, Queen Charlotte might even be better than the original.
The six-episode drama takes us back to the early days of the relationship between Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and King George III (Corey Mylchreest). Where Bridgerton’s diverse casting was lightly alluded to – creating an almost alt-history of Britain that was at once breezily inspiring and inclusive and a pointed corrective to period drama conventions – Shonda Rhimes’ prequel consciously leans into it. And so the series charts the social tensions that follow the public unveiling of Charlotte in the 1760s, as she travels from an obscure part of Germany to England, escorted by her brother, Adolphus (Tunji Kasim).
There’s been much speculation in real life that Charlotte might have been Britain’s first Black queen, with African ancestry, but Queen Charlotte goes beyond the casting of India Amarteifio in the role to explictly making her heritage part of the plot. In an attempt to overcome any scandal, the king’s mother, Dowager Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley), elevates a number of wealthy Black families to nobility, setting the foundations for Bridgerton’s diverse society as we know it. The result is a rich exploration of prejudices and politics, with the enjoyably haughty Augusta refusing to give all the new noble families land to go with their titles – something that reinforces double-standards and divisions but also opens the door for the savvy Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) to find a way to climb the social ladder.
The series jumps back and forth from the past to Bridgerton-era present, which lets us see the growth of Charlotte as a person and figure of power. It also gives us a chance to spend time with her, Lady Danbury and Lady Violet as we’ve previously known and loved them – and Golda Rosheuvel, Adjoa Andoh and Ruth Gemmell are clearly pleased to sink their teeth into more sharply scripted conversations. There’s an underlying poignancy to these scenes, as the queen loses her granddaughter and becomes determined to get her copious offspring to produce a viable heir.
The presence of so many children is proof that Charlotte and George’s marriage wasn’t unsuccessful, which makes the show’s starting point all the more intriguing – with Charlotte attempting to escape the arrangement and George spending more time alone in his observatory than with his bride. Corey Mylchreest’s performance is wonderfully nuanced, with George’s declining mental health portrayed with compassion and sensitivity. India Amarteifio, meanwhile, is winning in her naive vulnerability and increasing resilience and strength, pushing back against everyone around her to find agency in 18th-century Britain.
But while there’s will-they-won’t-they fun to be had at first, the joy of Queen Charlotte is that the couple are also charming and funny together – and have a chemistry that leads to a large number of bedroom scenes, which will no doubt please Bridgerton fans. The result is a timely and thought-provoking study of a mixed-race royal marriage, but one that’s also genuinely romantic and moving, while delighting in the many memorable characteers that surround our lead couple – most notably Arsema Thomas’ scene-stealing, charismatic Lady Danbury, the brilliant Peyvand Sadeghian as her maid, and Sam Clemmett as Charlotte’s (mostly) buttoned-up young secretary, Brimsley. It’s testament to just how strong this spin-off is that the more time we spend away from the existing Bridgerton universe, the better the show becomes.