I knew I was sucked into Netflix’s Queen Charlotte when 21-year-old star India Amarteifio offers her first on-screen grin. Playing the young version of Bridgerton‘s whimsical royal (Golda Rosheuvel) in this prequel series, the actress shows plenty of theatrical rebellion by smashing busts and monologues about all the ways her corsetry could kill her. She is cutting and biting in her small, safe German principality. But as soon as she arrives at the English court as a powerless pawn, she suddenly has to play the role of a submissive partner.
But as her future mother-in-law (Michelle Fairley) surrounds her in a palace apartment, Charlotte can hardly bear this vicious inspection of her body parts. “You’ve got good hips,” Augusta announces, tugging at Charlotte’s bodice. ‘You’ll make a lot of babies. As many babies as possible for my son.” Amarteifio stares, blinks, smiles curtly and responds with cold contempt. Rosheuvel’s Queen Charlotte is a sweet bitch; Amarteifio’s is a sweet, vulnerable bitch.
It’s not always easy to match younger and older versions of the same character played by different actors: even minor differences in appearance, performance, and cadence can lead to significant cognitive dissonance. Shows that use parallel timelines often feel like two different series stuck side by side. However, the shows that skillfully use this storytelling device are not only feats of writing and editing, but acting as well. Successful performers in these roles don’t just mimic each other; instead, they cultivate each other in a feedback loop, with the character pairs serving as acting partners even if they never share a scene together. And while it’s sometimes easier for prize pickers to see merit in the work of a familiar face in an industry veteran, they also have to consider the tremendous effort of emerging players that stand out in their own right.
Queen Charlotte, which follows our heroine at the start of her uneasy marriage and several decades later as the aged queen navigates a succession crisis, takes a risk in weaving these timelines so tightly. If Rosheuvel and Amarteifio were too in sync, you might wonder why the protagonist hadn’t matured in over 40 years. If it were too disparate, you’d wonder why you even looked at Charlotte’s origin story. Charlotte van Rosheuvel is a grinning virago who enjoys playing the nobility like puppets. Amarteifio’s version is more uncertain and uncertain, but no less sour. Her charisma continues in her lightning fast line readings, the young protagonist’s means of displaying intellect and dominance. Rosheuvel, in turn, does more with gestures and expressions, her Charlotte’s pride fermented by years of monarchical hardship.
Likewise Starz’s The snake queen follows the rise of a humble young woman whose royal marriage catapults her into a viper’s lair. Like Charlotte, Catherine de’ Medici (Liv Hill and Samantha Morton) is plucked from obscurity, transported to a new land and then married to a weird prince. She quickly transforms from an articulate Florentine nun to an articulate French princess, but her Machiavellian qualities eventually enable her to seize power herself. Hill is endearingly magnetic as teenage Catherine, a scruffy boy who learns early on that, unlike the other women on the court, she won’t be able to rely on beauty or sexuality to get what she wants – and cunning has a longer lifespan than physicality. . Hill’s Catherine is a brash vulgar with street wisdom, while Morton’s is tempered by years of heartbreak. Hill is a comedic delight, especially when visibly weighed down by her station’s grotesque regalia, but Morton drips venom into every line delivery.
Tragedy binds Showtime’s characters Yellow jackets, a group of middle-aged women who survived a plane crash as teenagers in the 1990s. The show’s magic isn’t just in its exploration of madness and superstition, but how it threads its parallel timelines through the talents of its actors. Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci and Tawny Cypress were casting cuts from the start of production, but the real shock of the ensemble is how well their younger counterparts complete their older selves. The young actors Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Thatcher, Samantha Hanratty and Jasmin Savoy Brown, respectively, carry the drama as masterfully as today’s actors.
Nélisse is heartbroken in season two as her Shauna endures the guilt of causing her best friend’s death, starves while trying to carry a pregnancy to term, and ends up losing her baby in childbirth. Shauna van Nélisse slowly becomes enraged by this emotional upheaval and gives in to the inner cruelty that eventually hardens in Lynskey’s version of the character.
The adult Shauna is haunted by unresolved grief, just like Clare (Kathryn Hahn and Sarah Pidgeon), the protagonist of Hulu’s Little beautiful things. As she approaches her 50th birthday, Clare can’t help but think back to the untimely death of her mother (Merritt Wever), whom she feels has failed by stalling her writing career and her own fragmented motherhood choices. Like Shauna, she has a troubled relationship with her husband and teenage daughter, which was only made more complicated by an unplanned pregnancy in her youth. Hahn and Pidgeon share a lived-in warmth, the kind of instinctive, nurturing energy that ultimately helps Clare become a popular advice columnist. Characters trapped in past trauma can sometimes become stagnant on screen, but being able to work through their early pain with them can enliven our understanding of their travails.
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.