India Amarteifio delivers a star turn as the titular monarch in a compelling, sexy, and smart prequel to Bridgerton.
With two successful seasons of Bridgerton under her belt, it’s no surprise that Netflix and Shonda Rhimes would veer into spin-off territory with Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, which tells the tale of Queen Charlotte’s (Golda Rosheuvel) early reign and her marriage to King George III.
The story flips back and forth between the Bridgerton-era present and the first days of George’s court. In the present, the monarchy is facing a succession crisis. The Crown Princess, dying in childbirth, has left the family with no heirs, only fourteen spoiled and dissolute siblings who have yet to produce a legitimate heir. Charlotte demands proper matches and proper heirs, even going so far as to enlist her confidantes, Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) and Lady Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), to help her understand what it takes to make a good match. Charlotte cannot rely on her own experience to guide her children, as her marriage has been uniquely loving and fraught.
When we first meet Young Charlotte (India Amarteifio), she is being crushed under the weight of her future in a gown so bejeweled she can’t even move. She explains to her brother Adolphus (Tunji Kasim) the bleakness of a woman’s role, how there is no choice and little freedom, how their lives are decided for them, and how they are traded like commodities for the sake of political alliance and wealth. She is expecting neither warmth nor kindness in her new situation, but as Adolphus firmly reminds her, this is The British Empire, one of the great conquering forces in the world, and they are in no position to argue. Choice is a luxury neither Charlotte nor her brother can afford.
Deciding to make a break for it after a humiliating inspection by her soon-to-be husband’s mother (Michelle Fairley), she is stopped from climbing the castle walls by a handsome, kind stranger, who happens to be none other than her intended, George (Corey Mylchreest). The chemistry between the two is as potent as it is sudden. Mylchreest and Amarteifio play brilliantly off one another as the two newlywed royals settle into their new lives. It is not smooth sailing, and the first few episodes show how poignant and lonely Charlotte’s life has become. George is an unsettled character, initially keeping away from his new bride, then slowly falling in love as they spend more time together. Even during a phase of early antagonism, the magnetism between the two is undeniable. For viewers disappointed by the lack of sex in Season 2 of Bridgerton, worry not. Queen Charlotte has you covered.
Periodic bouts of happiness are contrasted by the decline in George’s mental health and the “care” of Doctor Monro (Guy Henry), who heads the infamous Bethlehem Royal Hospital, otherwise known as Bedlam. With Henry’s erratic moods, Charlotte’s care and love for him only put her loneliness into starker relief. This is eased somewhat with the arrival of Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas), a newly-minted Noble and one of Charlotte’s ladies-in-waiting. They are quick to recognize an ally in one another, not only for their precarious positions in the wake of the Crown’s “great experiment” (in which titles and positions at court have been given to others who look like the new Queen) but also as two women in less-than-ideal marriages.
The beautiful thing about Queen Charlotte is how well the younger actors play off of their older counterparts. Amarteifio captures older Charlotte’s wry, winking humor, calculating intelligence, and expressions, while Thomas has every ounce of the older Lady Danbury’s confidence and gift for strategy.
The added context for Charlotte, George, Lady Danbury, and even Violet makes their adult versions more compelling, giving their choices and habits in the present more meaning. While both seasons of Bridgerton have been relatively light on plot, Queen Charlotte offers meatier fare to chew on. The too-good-to-be-true euphoria of a new love is given new weight when interspersed with the realities of caring for someone who isn’t fully present with you. It’s a moving portrait of a woman’s strength and determination and improves the Bridgerton series as a whole. God Save the Queen.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is available now on Netflix.