I admit that I, along with many Bridgerton, period drama, and historical romance fans, viewed the original announcement for the Queen Charlotte series with apprehension. She wasn’t even a book character to begin with, and her presence in the show was linked to a lot of the issues related to race relations that BIPOC critics described as a major issue. Princess Weekes, for one, made a video recently discussing the issues with the Queen Charlotte show, and how its attempts to create an egalitarian alternate reality are problematic, especially for characters linked ot upholding the slave trade. And while there is much to be said about the issues with color blind casting (Hamilton, period dramas like Mr. Malcolm’s List) which cast based primarily on the actor’s talent, vs. the Bridgerton-verse’s touted “color-conscious” casting, which claims to reckon with the period’s racial politics, there’s a question of whether the latter is done well enough to satisfy both the more cynical critics and those who may want a more escapist experience of “historical fantasy.”
All these thoughts, among a few others, led to my delaying my viewing of the series. However, while I did have some qualms upon watching it, they were things I was prepared to be critical of. And in spite of these flaws, I still found a lot to love here.
A lot has been made of the decision by the powers that be to release the show during the leadup to the real-life coronation of Charles III, even if the show had been in development prior to him becoming King. I’ve seen some comments questioning whether it’s propaganda of sorts for the monarchy. And while I think there’s some truth to that statement, Netflix has been pretty even-handed when it comes to the issue, with them also featuring the Harry and Meghan docuseries, which was somewhat critical of the institution. And recent seasons of The Crown have also drawn ire from those close to the Royal Family for its portrayal of certain key events that continue to put a stain on their legacy.
With that in mind, while I do think it does perpetuate the idea of monarchy as a good thing, it also highlights the very human side to the fictionalized historical figures it’s depicting, and the tremendous weight being the monarch can have on one’s personal well-being, as demonstrated through the portrayal of George III’s mental health.
Historical Fantasy and World Building
One of the big issues going in for some was how it would address the big elephant in the room brought up by Lady Danbury in Bridgerton season 1, that essentially love cures racism. I very much believe this is a case of historical fiction being inspired by the moment in which it was created as much as it pulls from the historical periods it depicts (early 1760s and 1817-18 Britain). And given the amount of coverage Charlotte received as the reputed “first biracial queen” (regardless of how exaggerated those claims were) when Meghan and Harry married, it’s easy to see how Shonda and the other writers and producers she works with, both on Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte, were inspired. But it’s hard to view the choice uncritically, especially with the passage of time. By 2020, when Bridgerton season 1 premiered, there was already a rift in the Royal Family, and in the following year, Harry and Meghan would publicize their allegations about the racism within the Royal Family in their interview with Oprah, and through several other ventures since, including the aforementioned docuseries and Harry’s recent memoir, Spare. And while there are many who ridicule them, it’s quite likely that many who are fans of Bridgerton, especially BIPOC fans, are supportive of Harry and Meghan. So, to say that an interracial marriage solved racism in an alternate-timeline eighteenth century when we still have issues with it in the twenty-first?
And the way the show grapples with it definitely is the one thing that disrupts the illusion for me. So many society people are casually racist, and while there are some “good eggs,” like Lord Ledger, Violet Bridgerton’s father, his wife is just casually awful, and Princess Augusta, George’s mother, is the actual worst at times. She does get better later into the series, but there are some awful moments, with her even being the instigator of a scene with Charlotte that echoes a very problematic body inspection scene from Bridgerton season 1 with Marina.
And this idea that Black people aren’t automatically equally entitled to peerages that work the same way as their white counterparts forms a big part of Lady Danbury’s arc. I like what it does for her character development, but to see all the ins and outs of how Black people were casually discriminated against until George and Charlotte were able to come together as a united front bothered me.
Characters and Relationships
While I didn’t think much of Charlotte as a character in the first two seasons of Bridgerton, I did really like her here. While her older counterpart in the previous seasons of Bridgerton struck me as very apathetic, this added a lot of context to her. Her younger self is very spirited, if a bit naive in the ways of the world, and she comes into a situation she isn’t entirely prepared for. I love how India Amarteifio captures young Charlotte, and she carries herself in a way that you’d believe she’s a younger version of Golda Rosheuvel. Charlotte’s relationship with George, played in his younger years by Corey Mylchreest and briefly as an older man by James Fleet (who I remember most as John Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility). The chemistry between India and Corey is electrifying, and they absolutely heat up the screen together, competing with previous seasons’ couples wonderfully. And while Golda’s Charlotte was often seen anticipating older George’s death, I loved that they were also given their own sweet moments together, mirroring that of their younger counterparts.
Lady Danbury was who I was most curious about ever since her “I became frightening” speech in season 1, and my expectations were very much met. While I wasn’t a fan of the characterization of her husband as a boorish Black man, I appreciate the sentiment of what they were trying to do with her. Like India, Arsema Thomas takes on the challenge of playing a younger version of a previously established character, exploring the hidden nuances and vulnerabilities from her past. While her mannerisms are initially less obvious, the transformation throughout the series, juxtaposed alongside bits with Adjoa Andoh’s established portrayal, make the transformation evident.
I already mentioned my antipathy toward Augusta, and hats off to Michelle Fairley for playing a royal matriarch with such an overbearing personality and making it work. I liked her prior performance as Catelyn Stark on Game of Thrones, and while this character is somewhat different, it shows her range for sure. And there are moments where you can see how she influences who both Charlotte and Lady Danbury become. With Lady D, it’s a little more direct, with their covert chats culminating in some advice-giving on Augusta’s part, while the overall dual-timeline plot structure serves to highlight how Charlotte becomes like the mother-in-law who once oppressed her, fussing over the marital and childbearing prowess of her own children (and hinting at the intergenerational familial spats that have plagued the British Royals since the Hanoverians).
The Bridgerton-verse finally gets some main-cast LGBTQ+ representation, with Brimsley, Queen Charlotte’s loyal longtime secretary, being confirmed to have had a romance in the past with King George’s secretary, Reynolds. While a lot of the onscreen interactions between young Brimsley and Reynolds include concern over the domestic issues concerning their respective employers, there are a few romantic and even sexual encounters that are absolutely worth savoring.
I also loved the acknowledgment that older women aren’t immune from sexual attraction and longing for love (or just sex) in their life. Lady Danbury is shown as a fully sexual being in her youth, and she is critical of the belief that older women are unable to have that again. Violet, in a nod to the novella about her “Violet in Bloom,” describes her garden being “in bloom” at one point in the series. While she is still uncertain if she plans to marry again, and Julia Quinn has said she doesn’t plan on giving Violet a second shot at love, who knows at this point, given how this series’ existence contradicts what she said in the past.
Structure and Storytelling
The narrative pivots seamlessly between the early 1760s, when King George and Queen Charlotte are first married, and 1817-18, in the midst of a succession crisis following the death of the only legitimate grandchild of King George and Queen Charlotte. I love how the two timelines inform each other, especially as the issues of the King’s mental state and the instability of the succession are relevant to both timelines. And while I’m by no means an expert in film, I noted some brilliant visual choices to bring that point, and the various issues the characters are facing, across. The ending, flashing back between the two timelines in deeply delicate moments, was particularly beautiful, highlighting the enduring love between George and Charlotte, in spite of all the obstacles they faced.
However, the time jump does pose some interesting questions for the future of Bridgerton. While timeline issues are a factor in the next few books, I’m not sure how they play logistically with how things were left at the end of season 2. That season covered the 1814 season, while this one follows 1817-18, and Violet mentions she only has two children married off and she also alludes to the rift between Eloise and Penelope. It does make me wonder what the writers’ plans are for the forthcoming third season and possibly beyond (a fourth is all that’s been confirmed up to this point).
While there are some issues, these were the result of the choices the writers made, and I’m not sure if there was a way to further address the issue that would work for everyone.It’s enjoyable for what it is, and everyone involved did a great job, even considering some of the more problematic aspects. It’s worth watching for some decent alt-historical drama, as long as we don’t forget about the real Black stories (including the many historical romances) out there written by Black authors that absolutely deserve their time to shine too.