‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’ is a Richer, More Melancholy Look at the Ton
5/5 powdered wigs
Queen Charlotte, played by Golda Rosheuvel, is one of the best characters in Bridgerton. On the surface, she’s prickly as a cactus and sly as a fox, but there’s always been a note of melancholy to her story, as her husband King George is laid low by an unnamed mental illness. Now, in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, we get a deeper look into both their characters.
Queen Charlotte goes back to the late 1700s to tell the story of how a young Charlotte (India Amarteifio) came to be the formidable queen of Regency-era England. Arriving from Germany in a gown so uncomfortable it could literally kill her, Charlotte’s brilliance and rebelliousness is evident from the start. She’s angry at being married off to someone she’s never met, and the mystery surrounding her new husband makes things even worse. Where is he? Why won’t anyone talk about him? What’s with all the secrecy? Bridgerton fans know that there’s trouble brewing, but Charlotte herself is in the dark—which makes her surprising first meeting with the young George (Corey Mylchreest) all the more gratifying.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Charlotte is trying to find an heir to the throne—and fighting with her large brood of children over who’s going to produce that heir. You might think it’s impossible to find another actor with the chops to play the character that Rosheuvel has perfected, but Netflix did it. Rosheuvel and Amarteifio seamlessly bring young and old Charlotte to life, all her mannerisms and quirks so perfect that you almost forget the actors are two separate people.
The other characters in the series shine, too. We meet a young Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas), ambitious but trapped in a miserable arranged marriage. She’s not new to London’s high society, having come from a wealthy family in Sierra Leone, but she and her husband are newly titled thanks to Queen Charlotte’s arrival. Agatha nurtures friendships with Charlotte in the past, and Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) in the present, revealing new layers of warmth and pathos as she navigates the racist politics of a reluctantly desegregated court. Like Rosheuvel and Amarteifio, Thomas and Adjoa Andoh work together to create a deep, loving portrait of a deliciously fascinating character.
One thing I feared, going into the series, was that it would portray George as an object to be dealt with. However, I was relieved to see that the series treats George and his mental health struggles with relative empathy and sensitivity. George’s illness causes periods of psychosis, during which his fascination with astronomy makes him forget where he is, and George and his mother seek out horrific treatments in a desperate attempt to cure him. I don’t know if the series does a perfect job portraying the experience of severe mental illness, but George doesn’t come across as passive or objectified. He wrestles with the shame of losing control and the fear of becoming a liability to his kingdom, and the love story he shares with Charlotte feels raw and authentic.
Speaking of George’s kingdom—Queen Charlotte is an intriguing look at how the people who seem to have the most power are often at the mercy of forces they can’t control. Right from the start, Charlotte is told that her life isn’t her own, that her sole purpose is to give her body to her adopted country. Years later, Charlotte passes the same lessons onto her children, not understanding how corrosive they are. Agatha, George, and all the other royals and aristocrats share the same sense of being trapped in gilded cages, poking a hole in the fairy tale romances that Bridgerton seems to celebrate on the surface.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) and Reynolds (Freddie Dennis), George and Charlotte’s secretaries. The two of them work together to handle the drama at court, as George tries to protect Charlotte from himself and Charlotte struggles with loneliness and resentment. However, Brimsley and Reynolds have a covert relationship of their own. Viewers have rightfully criticized Bridgerton for its lack of queer romances, but Brimsley and Reynold’s sweet, moving love story begins to remedy that problem.
Bridgerton is known for its flowery atmosphere, fluffy melodrama, and lighthearted romances. What makes it such a good series, though, are its deeply human characters, with all their yearnings and flaws. Queen Charlotte keeps the gorgeous dresses, but gives the Bridgerton world a new layer of complexity, with magnificent results.
(featured image: Netflix)
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