With an immensely successful two seasons, Netflix’s television series Bridgerton had to face one of the more difficult questions in entertainment: To prequel or not to prequel? Giving into the fan’s desire for more content before releasing the long-awaited third season, Netflix seized the opportunity to provide context for one of the period drama’s supporting characters, the Queen of Regency Era England, Queen Charlotte.
While the first two seasons portray Queen Charlotte as a middle-aged ruler addicted to gossip, Pomeranians and snuff, the spinoff series develops her character into a headstrong woman seeking control in a new marriage, position and society. Focusing on her teenage years, the Netflix series compellingly conveys Charlotte’s journey as she leaves her homeland of Germany to arrive in England to marry King George III, a man she has never met who secretly suffers from a crippling mental illness. In addition to dealing with a challenging, opaque marriage, Charlotte is thrust into the spotlight as the first person of color to ascend England’s throne, providing her with the opportunity and burden of launching what courtiers call “the Great Experiment,” or the color-blind society seen in Bridgerton’s earlier seasons.
Through expanding the Bridgerton universe with the addition of serious topics such as race, grief and mental illness, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story proves to be an impressive prequel that adeptly employs its predecessor’s characteristic visual milieu of opulent scenery and lush costumes and builds on its foundation of witty banter and steamy romance. Another critical element to the series’ success derives from the continuation of Bridgerton’s masterful casting. India Amarteifio makes a bold debut as the titular Queen Charlotte, imbuing the role with her own dynamic flair while clearly incorporating the mannerisms of Golda Rosheuvel, who plays the older Queen Charlotte, into her performance. Opposite Amarteifio is the charming Corey Mylchreest as the young King George. While it would be easy to portray King George as solely a monstrous, mercurial individual, Mylchreest viscerally conveys a man drowning in his own madness but coming up for air to show brief glimpses of acuity, innocence and compassion. Amarteifio and Mylchreest infuse their characters’ romance with explosive chemistry as well as deep-rooted respect, enabling viewers to see that Charlotte and George’s relationship is not about the prospect of them staying together, but about their navigation of the seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead.
One of the pleasantly surprising subplots of the series is the origin story of Lady Danbury. Although she appears in earlier seasons as a wealthy noble who enjoys her life as an independent woman, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story depicts her early years as a mother and a wife in a loveless marriage. Despite her distaste for her older husband, the young Lady Danbury joins her husband’s efforts to ensure the success of “the Great Experiment.” With a multilayered performance from newcomer Arsema Thomas, Lady Danbury’s journey from a submissive wife to an outspoken advisor to the Queen and unconstrained widow is skillfully portrayed. The result becomes a fiery Lady Danbury, who rises from the ashes of her tempestuous marriage to fight for her place in society, giving her equal access to resources and opportunities that would allow future characters, like season one’s Simon, a chance to prosper.
Fans of the original Bridgerton cast will also be pleased to see some of their favorite actors from the prior seasons, such as Adoja Andoh, Golda Rosheuvel, Ruth Gemmel and Julie Andrews, return to join the new cast. Unlike the first two seasons of Bridgerton that present events in a chronological sequence, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story employs a non-linear narrative, transitioning between the younger and older cast as the series contrasts the memory of the Queen’s first days in England with her life within the present of Bridgerton.
Although this gem of a series shines bright, there are still some imperfections, especially those that stem from the subplots of this non-linear approach. Transitioning from the events of Queen Charlotte’s wedding, viewers are transported to the present moment where England is in limbo without an heir, and as a result, the older queen, Rosheuvel, arranges marriages for her children, much to their chagrin. While these scenes demonstrate Charlotte’s determination to preserve her and George’s legacy and the crown, they fail to be as compelling due to the contrived dialogue and the predictable resolution of her children being happily married to attractive strangers.
Instead, a portion of the show’s 347 minutes would have been better expressed through some of the other, more satisfying subplots. For instance, in the later timeline, the older Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton struggle with finding love again at a later time in life, ultimately causing a deeper friendship to bloom through their connection. While bittersweet, this subplot provides a sharper contrast between the spring of their youth and hope and the winter of their grief and loneliness, which echoes the events of Charlotte’s life. Another, more engaging subplot centers around the secret relationship between Charlotte’s secretary, Brimsley, portrayed by Sam Clemmett, and George’s secretary, Reynolds, portrayed by Freddie Dennis. Their interactions provide another poignant romance filled with humorous banter, providing necessary levity to the show’s darker moments.
While the series operates in the liminal space between time, memory and seasons two and three of Bridgerton, there is no liminality about the validity to produce a Bridgerton prequel. Although I have no royal title, I decree that Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story proves to be one of the crowning achievements of the streaming season.
Emily Pugh is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].