Shonda Rhimes is the Serena Williams of television writing. Not only has Rhimes cemented her place as one of the greatest writers of her generation with her hit female-centric television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, but she has also helped propel the careers of superstar actors of color like Kerry Washington and Sandra Oh. As Rhimes returns to write her new Bridgerton spin-off series (she executive produces the original show), the mega showrunner manages to bring back some of the elements that made Bridgerton, particularly its first season, a knockout success. By focusing on the period drama’s most compelling characters, Rhimes makes the case that Bridgerton deserves its own cinematic universe with Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.
Queen Charlotte tells the story of Charlotte (India Amarteifio) as she navigates love, power, and race as the first Black queen of England during the Georgian era. The series keenly switches between her first few years as the wife of King George III (Corey Mylchreest) and in present-day Bridgerton, as she pressures her 15 children to produce an heir after the death of her only granddaughter. Though Charlotte is initially hesitant to marry a man she never met, no less from a totally different country, she immediately falls for the amateur farmer and astronomer. Tragically, their courtship is under threat as the king has a debilitating mental illness that makes it hard for him to tell the difference between the heavens and the earth.
As the newly minted royal battles her nosey mother-in-law, Augusta (Michelle Fairley), the Dowager Princess of Wales, and a backward-thinking parliament, she soon realizes that the future of Great Britain hinges on the success of her marriage with George. Fortunately for our wayward queen, she has her lady-in-waiting turned loyal friend Agatha (Arsema Thomas) and her royal secretary Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) to help her become a fierce ruler. Meanwhile, Agatha uses her charms and wits to secure her place in high society as Lady Danbury, and young Violet Ledger (Connie Jenkins-Greig,) embraces change during the era of “The Great Experiment.”
The Bridgerton sibling’s various courtships may make fans burn with desire, but Rhimes knows that the most interesting characters are “the mamas.” Unlike their conventionally pretty offspring, the matriarchs know their power lies within their wisdom and experience. They are the ones who work behind the scenes to secure their family’s station by assisting or meddling in their adult children’s love matches. And who better to explore how women can effectively wield power than Queen B herself, the formidable Queen Charlotte? In the first three episodes of Queen Charlotte, we see how young Charlotte comes into her own as the queen of England. Though the young royal becomes one of the most influential Black women of her time, she does not know how to utilize her position, at least initially.
In Episode 1’s “Queen to Be,” Charlotte learns to take control of her destiny. During the episode, the future queen’s brother, Adolphus (Tunji Kasim,) sternly reminds her that she must marry the king of England to protect their hometown Mirow, a tiny duchy in Germany, from outside forces. Yet, no one asks what Charlotte wants until the duchess meets George for the first time in the royal garden. As their meet-cute blossoms among the lush greenery and spectacular lighting, the incredibly dashing George asks Charlotte if she wants to marry him or escape her fate by jumping over the wall. The king’s simple question is powerful as it gives Charlotte the freedom to choose her future and, most notably, empowers the royal to wear her big, beautiful natural hair proudly when she finally walks down the aisle.
However, one of the biggest complaints from critics is that Bridgerton approaches race as an afterthought. Fortunately for viewers, Rhimes tackles that criticism head-on. With Queen Charlotte, Rhimes does not shy away from addressing race and class. Instead, she puts them in the foreground. For instance, when Agatha approaches Charlotte in Episode 3’s “Even Days,” the lady-in-waiting tells the distracted queen that she needs her assistance with hosting the first ball of the season as no one has accepted her invitations. This event is important to Agatha since it will encourage white Londoners to welcome more wealthy Black and Brown folks into society. Of course, Queen Charlotte’s depiction of racial issues is a little too simplified. However, it is not Rhimes’ goal to show us the world we live in but to inspire us to create the world we desire.
If there is one thing Rhimes brings back with great fanfare in Queen Charlotte, it is the period drama’s steamy sex scenes. Much to its detriment, there are far fewer intimate moments between the romantic leads in the current season of Bridgerton. Thankfully, Rhimes moves past the “very online” anti-sex scene discourse and gives her fans the romantic spark and sizzle they deserve. Not only are these scenes titillating to watch, but it also helps establish character development and growth. Take, for example, Brimsley’s intimate moment with the King’s secretary Reynolds. Their verbal and physical engagement with one another will entertain viewers while, at the same time, it provides them with vital information about the queen and king. Sure, that scene is full of exposition, but, oh boy, is it hot.
Like many current television shows on Netflix, Queen Charlotte’s runtime is long (each episode clocks in at an hour). However, suppose you are in the mood for gorgeous period costumes, spectacular sets, passionate confessions between lovers, sexy moments among the members of the town, and adorable Pomeranians, or, as Charlotte calls them, deformed bunnies. In that case, you will cherish every minute of this limited series. With Rhimes doing what she does best, she confirms that there are plenty of stories to tell within the Bridgerton universe.
Feature image courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix
All episodes for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story are now available on Netflix
Queen Charolette - 9/10