Bridgerton seasons one and two were well-received Netflix originals. A show that gave the audience an alternate history version by reimagining a world where people from different races were part of the high society in England. Even though I had issues with the show, Bridgerton was path-breaking in its way. When stories from the pre-Victorian and Elizabethan eras are told and retold, Bridgerton comes across as a breath of fresh air when it comes to storytelling and music as well. We got to see Queen Charlotte, the cheeky older Queen of England who had a penchant for gossip but was also known for her strong personality. Keeping her character in mind, the makers of Bridgerton give us a spin-off, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, which takes us back to a few decades ago when Charlotte was a young woman and was on the way to becoming King George III’s wife. What is her story going to be like? What are the kinds of struggles she came across on her road to becoming a loyal wife and a diligent queen? A Netflix Original miniseries created by Shonda Rhimes and directed by Tom Verica was released on the platform on May 4, 2023.
The show begins with young Charlotte, who lives with her family in Mirow, in modern day Germany, and belongs to a German royal lineage. She is witness to her brother signing off on her marriage contract, and she is distressed to see her brother carrying out the act without thinking twice. Soon we get to see an upset Charlotte who complains about her clothes as she is being taken to England to meet the mother of King George III, whom she is betrothed to. Their marriage has been fixed; this meeting is just a formality to meet Charlotte and her brother, Duke Adolphus. The brother is too excited about the match because if it works out, his sister will become Queen of England, and their legacy is sealed. King George’s mother is not happy to see Charlotte, who happens to be of darker skin color and raises it as a point of concern. But with no time to end the engagement, she proposes to further push the idea of the great experiment through marriage by inviting families who are people of color and were recently inducted into English society in the face of plenty of resistance from the white population. Charlotte has some other concerns. She feels like she has been shipped off without any warning, and she seems to have no idea what the King is like. No one in the palace in London is willing to be honest with her about the man and his temperament.
On the day of the marriage, Charlotte plans to elope on her own just to get out of a forced marriage. She is stopped by a fine gentleman who, a few minutes into the conversation, reveals himself to be King George of England. Enamored by how simple the man is and how easy it is to converse with him, Charlotte changes her mind and decides to marry him. He comes across as a dream man, and Charlotte cannot be happier. What could go wrong? On the night of their wedding, George takes Charlotte to her new home, Buckingham House, and he specifies that it will be her house. Enquiring diligently, she is shocked to hear George would be heading back to his palace at Kew, where he spends most of his time. Charlotte protests this arrangement, but George has already made up his mind and leaves, only for Charlotte to be heartbroken and dejected. This is just one of the many obstacles she is about to face in her marriage. How will she make sure to bring her husband, the King, back into her life to make their marriage work? What kinds of problems does she come across?
The older Queen Charlotte, in the year 1817, is bereaved when she learns of the death of her daughter during childbirth. They also lost the child in the process. A panicked queen realizes all her grandchildren from her sons are illegitimate, and her daughters have also not given her any children. The Queen, from here on, is on a mission to find a suitable match for her sons, who would be from respectable families, and get them married, in the hope the marriage would give her a legitimate heir. How far is Queen Charlotte willing to go to give her family and lineage an heir?
The title credits of the show must be appreciated, for they give us a glimpse into the life of Queen Charlotte in an animated form. A peculiar yet genius idea indeed. Since this show is based on the books by Julia Quinn, only those who have read the books would know how true Shonda remains to the literature. Meanwhile, for someone like me who has not read the book, the only way to appreciate this show is to see if the screenplay is good enough for non-book readers to comprehend and easy to follow. Thankfully, the show works in favor of the non book readers because the screenplay is one of the biggest strengths of this show. Even though the story jumps between two different timelines and the young Queen Charlotte and King George’s lives go back and forth between Buckingham House and the Palace at Kew, the screenplay and narrative did not seem to make the audience confused and laid out a straight, uncomplicated road for the viewers to follow the story. Written by Shonda Rhimes and Nicholas Nardini, the show sucks us into the complicated lives of Queen Charlotte and her husband, King George, who seem to be in that zone where they are just discovering each other as partners. Even though they are intimate with each other because they must produce an heir, the emotional intimacy between them is lacking. Their relationship, from becoming King and Queen to husband and wife to lovers and, at last, best friends, is explored with utmost care and sensitivity. The plot surely takes time for the Queen to finally tap into understanding who George is, and it is a well-crafted narrative. Amongst all the talk of inherent racism, power struggles, and women being pushed around and treated only as baby-producing machines, the show is inherently about the love that flourishes between a young couple. Even the intimate scenes have been written and shot with sensitivity, and not one of them comes across something that has just been added to titillate the audience.
In just six episodes, the screenplay manages to talk about the pressures King George faces, such as his inability to lead a normal life and his inability to follow his passion, which happens to be science and agriculture. There is also talk of mental health breakdowns and severe anxiety. Of course, there were not the same terms used back in the day, but it was easy to understand what the character was going through just by looking at the physiological reaction to certain events and situations. The stamp of perfection on women and men is too much to take, and that narrative comes out very convincingly. The screenplay brushes upon women, female friendships among the younger and older crowd, and the need for that without all the gossip. Just women pushing other women to achieve success and helping them to walk up that ladder. It is indeed endearing, and thanks to a strong screenplay, none of them seem like facades. The satirical humor in the show is layered with the narrative. The only peeve is the length of the episodes. The issue here was that the screenplay, after a while, beat around the bush and tried to prove one point many times. It got repetitive after a while and just added extra minutes to the episode, which was not required. Editing was also severely affected because it felt like the episode would just not finish after a point. The narrative didn’t require being this stretched out.
Thanks to an engaging screenplay, the performances also came out well. India Amarteifio, as Queen Charlotte, has brilliantly portrayed the confusing and boredom-ridden life she had to lead, and soon she decided to take it upon herself to bring about some changes so that she need not be miserable all her life. Shonda Rhimes and Nicholas Nardini have fleshed out the character very well, and she comes across as any woman who is willing to make things work and does not want to give up yet. A woman who is determined to make herself heard and not come across as domineering but compassionate, who is sensitive towards her husband’s troubles and faces them with grit, and who waits for results with utmost patience.
Corey Mylchreest as King George III is an excellent choice, for the actor can bring out all the emotions that are required to portray King as an emotionally fragile man who has to be the face of the nation. Nicholas Nardini and Shonda Rhimes again flesh out this complicated character with the exact amount of vulnerability that is required to portray it on screen. The man is under tremendous pressure to be perfect, and there is also a history of abuse. These emotions strike a chord with viewers, and the pain is highly relatable. The chemistry between the two actors is also excellent. The credit here again must go to the writer and the director for beautifully showcasing this walking-on-the-eggshell kind of relationship.
Besides the two leads, we also get characters from the original Bridgerton story who leave quite an impact. Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Golda Ros Heuvel as the older Charlotte, who comes across as a lot more annoying than the young and resilient Charlotte, and Adjoa Andoh as the older Lady Danbury and Arsema Thomas as the young Lady Danbury. These characters bring out this aspect that women are capable as people but are always looked upon as someone who could just be wives or mothers. These women proved it would be better to use the female mind to make the world a slightly more logical place for themselves and others. Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story ends in a rather adorable way, something that is hard to overlook. One must watch this show on Netflix to make sense of why the ending is rather delightful.