Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story review
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story marks the first spin-off for one of Netflix’s golden geese — Bridgerton — the titillating racy period drama that’s garnered a massive following in the streaming circles.
The Shonda Rhimes-written spinoff retains much of the charm of its predecessors. Characters are well developed, the classical take on contemporary songs are creative, the set designs and costumes are magnificent, and the performers are superb. The only catch though, is given the title it’d be fair to expect Queen Charlotte to focus more on…Queen Charlotte.
For the first three episodes that minor goal works out perfectly well.
Rather than make the spin-off a full-on prequel, Rhimes splits the story between the journey of a young Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and the present-day queen (Bridgerton’s constantly scene-stealing Gilda Rosheuvel given a well-deserved larger spotlight). While the Bridgerton series creator, Rhimes hadn’t written an episode in any of the two seasons, making her Bridgerton-verse writing debut here.
At the start of the series, young Charlotte is heading to England to marry the young king, George (Corey Mylchreest, The Sandman). Charlotte isn’t afraid to speak her mind and has plenty of questions for her brother, Adolphus (Tunji Kasim), on why he hastily agreed to an arranged marriage with the king.
George is dashing, charming and has some innovative ideas to improve the country yet he’s harboring a secret that’s making him push Charlotte away despite their obvious connection. While the chemistry might not be at the scorching sizzling levels of Anthony and Kate from season 2, Amarteifio and Mylchreest make for an electric pairing.
The marriage is part of “The Great Experiment,” a theory Rhimes infers more than flat out explains. Presumably, it’s to show there’s no harm or issue in races co-mingling. Rhimes does tackle racism — blatant and subtle — more than what’s been shown in the “we don’t see color” tone of the main Bridgerton series. Queen Charlotte essentially does the groundwork for explaining why the Ton is more progressive during the Bridgerton era.
George’s mother, Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley, Game of Thrones), is a nuanced character trying to keep the hounds of Parliament at bay and frequently failing at putting on a polite and welcoming face when Charlotte questions her control.
Charlotte’s elder counterpart, meanwhile, is trying to ensure the continuation of the dynasty by forcing her “slacker” children to get married and start popping out heirs.
This was the mindset Charlotte grew up with in the early days of her marriage so it’s understandable she would echo those statements. Charlotte never gets that revelatory moment where she considers this callous commands she’s giving the same children she was so happy to have in her youth.
Rhimes mainly keeps the elder Charlotte a prickly, cold figure. When she loses a daughter-in-law, her comforting words to her son are “prayers, prayers. sorrow” with a distant pat on the back. It feels like a subtle jab at the “thoughts and prayers” mantra anytime a mass shooting occurs with the same hollow actions in the aftermath.
There’s not enough connective moments to show how the kinder, more sympathetic younger Charlotte becomes this cold, distant and rude elder leader. Rhimes has indicated there could be another season of Queen Charlotte, but providing that context and connection of the two title characters should have been one of the core objectives of this season.
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Given the slightly shorter run for the spinoff, six episodes instead of Bridgerton’s standard eight, at times it felt like Queen Charlotte was burning through too many subplots that could have benefited from more time…or their own spinoff.
That’s best exemplified with Lady Agatha Danbury’s arc. Arsema Thomas is fantastic as the younger version of Adjoa Andoh’s prestigious, key figure in the Bridgerton saga. Lady Danbury is one of the movers and shakers in the Ton and she’s one of the few people who has the queen’s ear and can influence her with no fear of repercussion. Some of Queen Charlotte’s best moments feature Amarteifio and Thomas showing the origin of this unique friendship.
It’s easy to see why Rhimes was so intrigued with fleshing out Danbury’s backstory — she’s a fascinating character who deals with a bore of a narcissistic husband (Cyril Nri) who views her largely as a breeding factory before deciding her own path. Danbury navigates plenty of political minefields as the boots on the ground character in “The Great Experiment” holding it down for the rest of the newly titled members of the Black community.
Agatha’s own political power jousts with Augusta are also compelling drama as Augusta seems to relish in using her privilege — both as a royal and a white woman — over Agatha. There’s a tremendous scene in the final episode paying off that storyline that would absolutely be worth resuming if a second season does occur.
There’s enough material with Danbury to justify her own spinoff. Thomas clearly can elegantly breeze through six episodes as the lead with the elder Danbury arc given more time to bloom (pun intended) played out in longer form than a small subplot in Queen Charlotte. Or maybe Rhimes could have simply paced some elements better. The series doesn’t benefit from 8-10 scenes of young Danbury bored with sex with her husband, which is presented as a running joke that gets told far too often.
This also felt like an odd time to consider Violet Bridgerton’s (Ruth Gemmell) feelings of loneliness as the years pass since the death of her husband. Yes, there’s a thread of loneliness linking Charlotte, Agatha and Violet, but there’s no bond with Charlotte and Violet so truly connect the characters. Violet could always get this subplot in any season focusing on one of her children, but this was the rare opportunity to spotlight Charlotte as more than the haughty monarch getting upset at Lady Whistledown’s newsletters.
Freddie Dennis and Sam Clemmett provide strong supporting roles as George and Charlotte’s aides doing their part to keep the marriage together.
As questionable as some directions of the series go, the main storyline of Charlotte and George’s romance is Bridgerton at its best. The care Charlotte has for George is touching while George’s efforts to make himself “right” for Charlotte are heart-breaking.
Bridgerton usually has a pie in the sky mentality about serious issues like racism and misogyny but tackles mental health with a more thoughtful lens even if it won’t lead to a “happy” ending.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix