‘Bridgerton’ Prequel ‘Queen Charlotte’ Is a Royal Bust
How do you fit arranged marriage, forced childbearing, mentall illness, tabloid gossip, string covers of pop songs, high-society scheming, racial revolution, and a shit-ton of dresses into a six-episode Netflix series? Well, if you’re Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, you do so with a bang. You know which kind I’m talking about.
Sex puns aside, the latest addition to the Bridgerton IP rat race isn’t just about bodice-ripping, castle-shaking romps. No, this romance series wants viewers to think about what love means without the typical happy ending — and has set its sights on one of the series’ most “epic love stories”: starring the titular Queen Charlotte and her husband King George III.
While the Queen Charlotte viewers know and love (Golda Rosheuvel) has plenty (maybe too much) screentime in the show, it’s a younger Queen Charlotte (India Ria Amarteifio) that gets introduced in this prequel. After her brother makes a marriage arrangement on her behalf, Charlotte is taken from her home and deposited in an England not ready for her defiance, or her skin color. Following a chance meeting with her husband, King George (Corey Mylchreest), Charlotte is disarmed by the idea that her marriage of necessity could also be one of love. But while she’s getting used to her new life, outside forces by way of the newly-titled Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) and George’s royal mother (Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley) threaten Charlotte’s rebellious nature. And as royal duty and unstable futures begin to clash — putting Charlotte’s happiness and future racial integration of polite society at risk — the queen must choose what love means to her, past, present, and future.
There are plenty of moments that will have Bridgerton fans kicking their feet. The casting of George, Lady Danbury, and Charlotte’s young counterparts goes beyond face value. Thomas, Mylchreest and Amarteifio truly give their older versions a run for their money in the acting department. Amarteifio, especially, embodies a youthfulness in Queen Charlotte that covers for even the weakest dialogue and character motivation. She and Mylchreest feel in love, which might feel like the bare minimum, but it’s a necessity. And as young Lady Danbury, Thomas transforms the smirking widower into a powerful, passionate lady, desperate to wield her newfound status in a way that helps her escape her lot in life.
Here’s the problem: they should have stopped there. There’s nothing more romantic than a love affair that everyone knows is doomed from the start. Sprinkle a little feminism here and there and you’ve got six hours and a hit on your hands. But the show takes on a darker form than its predecessors, one it tries and fails to apologize for in the form of aggressive, thrusting sex on every available surface and in every conceivable position. By spending so much time switching between the past and present world, the prequel starts to feel less like its own show and more like added color for future seasons of Bridgerton. And Queen Charlotte is forced to deal with a problem that past seasons of Bridgerton created: race.
When Bridgerton first premiered in December 2020, fans were thrilled by the series’ diversity and color-blind casting. Black Brits with titles? No racism? But dedicated viewers got a rude awakening in the form of a minor conversation between Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) and the now-suspiciously-absent father, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). “We were two separate societies divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us,” Danbury says in Season One. “Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become. Love, your grace, conquers all.”
The idea that a love match between a white king and Black queen could cure racism in one generation is laughable enough. But in Queen Charlotte, Bridgerton’s idea of racial harmony is stretched to its breaking point. Instead, the new “very brown” queen and the “Great Experiment” is only accepted because canceling the wedding would be a larger hassle than just painting Charlotte lighter in her official portraits. And, even when the Dowager Viscountess makes dozens of Black citizens lords and ladies, the issues of race and inheritance only bog the series down with every mention — giving few answers and leaving in their wake massive questions about Bridgerton’s world.
With only six episodes, there’s still plenty of glitz and glam that longtime Bridgerton fans will cling to. But by centering serious issues without handling any of them deftly, Queen Charlotte’s final result paints a pretty picture, just not one you want to look at for too long.
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