Fans of the Bridgerton franchise are unanimous: Queen Charlotte, the spin-off presented as “a Bridgerton story” is better than the previous two seasons. It’s not an exaggeration. The six-episode mini is intense and makes us laugh, cry, cheer, get nervous, and cry a lot again. Even more so if you’re a maniac for true stories like me. Did you know? Is Bridgerton pure fiction, Queen Charlotte? Not so much.
Let’s open the game here. Shonda Rhimes is a genius. No exaggeration of the word. Bridgerton was just his first project with Netflix and it took the world (needy and terrified at the start of the pandemic) by storm. The adaptation of Julia Quinn‘s bestsellers was supposed to be her second work on the platform, but for different reasons, it marked her debut. It became a worldwide fever. With a cast including a typical story from the romantic universe of Jane Austen, the rhythm of Downton Abbey, the narrative of Gossip Girl, and hints of Outlander, the series won fans and already has two seasons available (each one will focus on one of the Bridgerton brothers, so some are missing) and also cleverly used a common formula: mixing real characters circulating among fictional ones. In this case, it was Queen Charlotte, who does not appear in the books, but in the series is cited as the beginning of where “everything changed” in British society.
With her creative wigs, acidic humor, and great elegance, Charlotte would be a supporting role in the story if it weren’t for the perfection of Golda Rosheuvel‘s performance, who stole the scene. She returned in the second season and repeated the feat, so when they announced in May 2021 that they would be working on a spin-off just to tell the queen’s story, I celebrated. Charlotte’s story, as the series proves, is a fascinating one. Better than fiction.
First, although she is of German origin since 2009 historians point to Charlotte as possibly the first bi-racial queen in English history. Queen Victoria‘s grandmother, the wife of King George III, was born Sophie Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz and was a descendant of the Portuguese Margarita de Castro e Souza (sic), in turn, daughter of the Portuguese King Afonso III with a Moorish mistress. Charlotte married George III when she was just 17 and he was 22, they had 15 children, including Princess Victoria’s father.
It was a union of genuine love, sorely tested by the King’s fragile mental health. We already had a glimpse of this love between them in Bridgerton, but now we go back and forth in time to see how it all began. If you haven’t watched Bridgerton when you leave the focus on the royal couple, you won’t understand the story, but effectively what matters is the Charlotte-George couple, so it doesn’t get in the way. The advantage of the back-and-forth is having the wonderful Golda Rosheuvel back and seeing how the young India Amarteifio, who plays the young queen, captured the nuances of the actress, giving consistency to the story and delighting us in the process.
Charlotte arrives in London, against her will, to marry King George III (Corey Mylchreest as a youth; James Fleet as the older version). She is part of the “Grand Experiment” envisioned by the Queen Mother to bring diversity to the Court. The big secret – the king’s mental instability – is a closely guarded secret that immediately interferes with their marriage. Here begins the beauty of the narrative. Charlotte and George, with perfect chemistry between the actors, really fell in love, and she really only found out the truth after his crisis. As until today it is questioned what he really suffered (the trend defending bipolar disorder is gaining momentum), the suffering and humiliating treatments he underwent are partially true as well.
Corey Mylchreest, in particular, brought sweetness and vulnerability to the role that wasn’t always seen. In general, as the “Mad King” is called, George’s crises were recounted in a comical way, exposing the king who suffered a life of instability to jokes and criticism. Not in Queen Charlotte, we suffer with him and with her, hoping for a solution that, unfortunately, was not found.
Apart from Charlotte, who in the present day of Bridgerton and the series is dealing with the issue of succession (resolved with the birth of her granddaughter, Queen Victoria), we find out more about the past of Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Andoh and, when young woman, Arsema Thomas) and her liaison with Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). I’ll avoid spoilers, it’s pretty cool. Because if Charlotte and George represent the beginning of a love story, both Lady Danbury and Violet, middle-aged women, and widows, wonder if life ends in the first marriage.
Another delicate and unexpected story is that of Brimsley (Sam Clemmett), the Queen’s faithful squire, always present and a few steps behind her. Their friendship, and his love for Reynolds (Freddie Dennis), who takes care of George, also fill our hearts with hope. Behind the scenes, it is Brimsley and Reynolds who ‘save’ the couple, without interfering or breaking rules, but helping them to overcome obstacles.
I promise I didn’t give away major spoilers and I held back because I’m sure they will thrill you like they did to me. The final scene is pure poetry, even more so because it is true. Charlotte cared for George until the end of her life, and the two are buried together in Windsor. A story that has no madness, just empathy and love.