Most of the first hour is Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story plays like a step-by-step guide to creating an irresistible romance, courtesy of creator Shonda Rhimes.
Step One: Introduce a heroine we just love in Charlotte (India Amarteifio), a 17-year-old princess who spends the drive to her own wedding making dark jokes about pinning herself on her undergarments instead of marrying a man whom she has not yet met. Step Two: Bring about a meeting between our heroine and said man, George III (Corey Mylchreest), and make him fall in love with her so clearly that we find ourselves instantly in love with him too. Step three: Get the couple married in a lavish ceremony, then send them out into the evening to live out their happily ever after.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
It comes down to
A richer, deeper romantic fantasy.
broadcast date: Thursday, May 4 (Netflix)
Form: India Amarteifio, Adjoa Andoh, Michelle Fairley, Ruth Gemmell, Corey Mylchreest, Golda Rosheuvel, Arsema Thomas, Sam Clemmett, Freddie Dennis, Hugh Sachs, Julie Andrews
Creator: Shonda Rhimes
Only in this case we already know that there will be no happily ever after, or not exactly. Inherent to Queen Charlotte is the tension between the cotton candy fantasy being made Bridgerton so loved with the thornier ground already laid for the central couple by the core series (and real-life history). And while the series doesn’t always land on a perfect balance between the two, the challenge ultimately yields a spin-off that’s richer and more complex than the flagship series, but no less ravishing in its romance.
although Queen Charlotte‘s premiere ends with a wedding, the fact that the series has five hours left to fill should be an obvious clue that the couple is headed for bigger challenges than just going down the aisle. Here the utter magic of that first meeting – which Rhimes casts so skillfully, she almost makes it look easy – pays off hugely: it keeps us believing in the inherent rightness of their bond, even as the series throws up all sorts of hurdles . them.
Some will be familiar to fans of others Bridgerton seasons; of course Charlotte is so naive that she needs the concept of sex explained to her through hastily sketched diagrams. Others repeat one of Netflix’s other series about the agony of British royals. “I was born to the fortune or misery of a great nation, and must therefore often act contrary to my passions,” George rants about his marriage, and the line may sound borrowed from Charles’ pre-marriage conversation with Elizabeth II on The crownor adapted with a little time-bound tweaking of one of Harry’s grievances Harry and Megan. (In fact, it is taken from something George III is said to have said about a pre-Charlotte love; this is apparently a common problem with these people.)
And inevitably some have to do with race issues and other social issues. BridgertonThe first season of ‘s showed that it was George and Charlotte’s union that established his ahistorically diverse vision of British high society, obliging him to Queen Charlotte to tackle the problem head and shoulders. But the spinoff’s approach ends up being both too heavy-handed to ignore and too superficial to take seriously. The “Grand Experiment” of integration is considered far-reaching enough that after a mixed-race ball, George marvels that he and Charlotte have “created more change, stepped forward more than Britain did in the last century.” At the same time, the series is hesitant to explore the ugly attitudes implied by this necessary edict, save for a few instances of ineffective grumbling from avowed racists. One almost gets the impression that the only reason England didn’t desegregate sooner was simply that no one had thought of pulling the trigger.
But yes, this frothy franchise was never really equipped to tackle such topics. Queen Charlotte is blessed with more confidence in the job it was actually designed for, which is to deliver a romance worth sighing and giggling over. Amarteifio and Mylchreest share an instant and palpable chemistry that grows stronger as their early marriage spirals into a seething mess of desire, resentment, pain and tenderness. And when the plot keeps them apart for a long time, both are occupied by a compelling network of supporting characters with their reasons for plotting for or against the pair – including Charlotte’s ambitious bestie Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas), George’s calculating mother Augusta ( Michelle Fairley) and, in an unexpectedly touching touch, a pair of extremely loyal butlers (Sam Clemmett’s Brimsley and Freddie Dennis’ Reynolds).
Toss in the requisite jewel-encrusted silk, Vitamin String Quartet pop covers, and a healthy sense of humor over the silly extravagances of the ruling class, and Queen Charlotte manages to recreate the same dizzying pleasures of its predecessor. And it does all this without relying on the illusion of eternal marital bliss. Throughout the series, glimpses of the middle-aged, Regency-era Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) we recognize from Bridgerton serve as a reminder of where this particular love story is headed – toward progressive mental illness for George (James Fleet) and a potential succession crisis for their dynasty. Each timeline adds poignant shadows to the others, and over time they combine to steer the series away from the pie-in-the-sky ideals of Bridgerton to something more grounded.
‘I want to fight you. Fight with me. fight for me,” Charlotte shouts to George during an argument over what she perceives as his indifference. Her words are an expression of anger, but they also reflect the series’ conception of love as something that the contestants must actively defend day in and day out, rather than a fate that simply befalls them. A happy ending may not be in the stars for these two, at least not in the way we’ve come to expect from this series. But by the time we catch up in the finale to an older Charlotte and an older George – still able, despite all they’ve been through, to see each other as the beautiful souls they first fell in love with – Queen Charlotte has argued that the battle we fight for love is exactly what makes it so rewarding.