Odd historical revisionism aside, Shondaland’s breezy new offering doesn’t mess with the Bridgerton formula
In theory, Regency England and the decidedly modern stylings of Shonda Rhimes shouldn’t fit together, but Bridgerton drove audiences wild. Keen to replicate that success, Netflix and Shondaland are at it again with the prequel miniseries Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.
Distressed teen Charlotte (India Amarteifio) travels from Germany to London, where her future mother-in-law, the Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley), undertakes what the show calls “The Great Experiment.” Determined to ensure acceptance for Charlotte, who is Black, Augusta decrees that, per order of King George (Corey Mylchreest), England must invite people of color to join the court. The show leaves her selection process to our imaginations, and portrays most resistance to the change as typical court snobbery rather than outright racism.
One of the courtiers invited to attend Charlotte is Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas), a wily social climber. She sees her connection to the young sovereign as an easy way to acquire power, and eagerly does so by becoming both a confidante for Charlotte and a spy for Princess Augusta. Her much older husband attributes the family’s social ascendancy to his existence, reminding us men have pretty much always been that way.
When Charlotte and George reluctantly embark upon their marital duties for the sake of the crown, they don’t like each other much, but their bodies certainly do. This being a Bridgerton series, there is ample lust churning in the court, both inside and outside the sanctity of marriage. Ample opportunity arises for longing glances, steamy hookups, and bare bottoms.
Sex and social upheaval aren’t the only happenings in Queen Charlotte’s world. While adapting to her new country, she must also learn to deal with her eccentric husband, wh vacillates between strange disappearances, muttering to himself while writing on the walls, or standing stark naked in the courtyard (but not in a sexy way). This is, after all, the man who will come to be known as Mad King George.
Forward time jumps into to the normal Bridgerton milieu aim to enrich the miniseries. While young Queen Charlotte aims for an heir to hold the throne in the primary story, her older self still yearns to secure the succession. Though she birthed thirteen children, none of them have produced a legitimate child, except one, who just died. The simple plot device offers Charlotte’s life a semblance of tidy symmetry while also rolling this origin story directly to the main universe viewers already adore.
Revised history feels like it works better with fictional characters than known entities, especially when the real royal family and their uncomfortable colonialism are weirdly omnipresent to this day. In a certain light, Queen Charlotte provides escapism and promotes a more beautiful, multi-colored world, but in another, perhaps doing things this way downplays the very real harm done to people of myriad diverse backgrounds at the demanding hands of the monarchy.
Overall, Queen Charlotte is successful because it doesn’t steer far from its tried-and-true formula. It converts pop songs to classical bangers, Julie Andrews cheekily narrates, and nearly everything onscreen—the costumes, sets, and actors—looks scrumptious. India Amarteifio effortlessly carries the weight of her title against powerhouses like Thomas and Fairley, and the chemistry, like the queen herself, rules.