Bridgerton drafted its massive army of passionate, slightly horny fans because of its deftness in balancing a lovely story with hearty amounts of steamy intercourse. The Netflix series’ abundance of illustrious sex scenes has always been bolstered by a rich plot with lovable side characters, justifying the titillating appeal. Still, the balance has shifted in the span of Bridgerton’s two seasons. If last season felt like it was less about the sex and more about the romance, this new spinoff swings the pendulum in the complete opposite direction—the bedroom romps are prioritized far more than the actual story at hand.
You might not expect Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), the uppity leader of England shown sporadically on Shonda Rhimes’ main series, to be engaging in oodles of sexcapades. (Or maybe you do—she is a wild one, after all.) But Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story takes us back to her younger years, where the monarch is played by India Amarteifio. Unlike the other two Bridgerton tales, this spinoff reverses the narrative: When we first meet her, Charlotte is already on her way to wed King George (James Fleet, played by Corey Mylchreest in his younger years) of the Ton. She just hasn’t met him yet.
Nor does she want to.
Charlotte would be perfectly fine marrying any other noble gentlemen, but being shipped from Germany to the United Kingdom to marry the damn King of England? Hard pass. Alas, this is one of the more truthful storylines of Bridgerton thus far—while Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) were given the chance to select their suitors, more realistically, suitors would’ve been selected for them. Now, we get to peer into what life as a woman in the Ton would’ve actually looked like—not only through Charlotte, but also through the troubled backstory of Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh, played by Arsema Thomas in her younger years).
Charlotte’s reluctance to her betrothal makes her a fascinating character from the jump. She does not want to be Queen, nor a bride, nor married to someone she’s never met. Buckingham Palace is on the same page, appalled by Charlotte’s skin color. (A line reading in the first episode, in which the palace gossip about how “dark” the girl is, feels ripped straight out of the Meghan Markle/Prince Harry interview with Oprah—and a little too on the nose.) No one really wants this to happen, apart from Charlotte’s brother, who made the deal in the first place. This makes it all the more surprising—and enticing—when Charlotte and George actually meet, striking an instant chemistry that quashes all doubts of whether they should be together.
The two wed before the first episode of the series is even close to ending, a departure from Bridgerton’s signature format: Build up to the marriage, then wed, then plenty of steamy sex. Thus, it’s not long before George and Charlotte are tangled in bedsheets, though the series tries to throw a few wrenches in their way. They initially hate each other, an enemies-to-lovers situation that feels as juicy as Anthony and Kate (Simone Ashley) in Season 2, but doesn’t last half as long before they make up and tear one another’s clothes off. Those moments are blissful, as always, but the lack of a more drawn-out romantic plot deprives you of the chance to fully fall in love with these two characters.
But that’s what happens when you try to squeeze the narrative we’re all used to from the first season of Bridgerton into six episodes instead of the usual eight. Queen Charlotte is also the first Bridgerton-related season to dip and dive through two storylines running on separate timelines. While Charlotte and George navigate their marriage in the past, in the “present day” (still the 1800s), an older Charlotte demands that one of her 15 children produce an heir. As King George reaches the end of his life, without a grandbaby to replace him, his lineage will end after his passing. Unfortunately, the task falls on Charlotte to accomplish, as she now must force her children to get hitched.
Charlotte has good humor about her children, who she calls “virgins and whores,” as her sons sleep around too much to stay committed to a wife, and her daughters are too pure to be wed. That timeline’s stress over progeny mirrors the younger Charlotte’s journey learning the ropes when it comes to the monarchy, demonstrating that the character’s major concern is to become queen and maintain the sanctity of her chair. The way it’s portrayed in Queen Charlotte acts like we should respect her for trying so hard, but, really, why are we being asked to empathize with the Queen of England? It’s even more difficult to feel sorry for the King of England, who is literally tortured in his subplot—which only feels like an attempt to be sure viewers are sympathizing with his character. (How else would we empathize with the King of England?)
While I applaud Bridgerton for attempting to make a political statement—that women can and should hold power, even if they lose their temper while holding said power—Queen Charlotte has only proven that the show should always steer clear of politics. The show’s treatment of Lady Danbury, another lazy attempt at a message about arranged marriage, is even messier. She wiggles in and out of love stories—she hates her husband, relishes his death, then finds two new lovers. The goal of these storylines seem to be to empower her, but they only confuse.
Her most interesting romantic arc is introduced in the final minutes of the penultimate episode, but peters out in the finale. Somewhere in the rubble of all this is a stronger story of loss, finding a new love after death, and, as overplayed as it is, the woes of being sold into a marriage. It’s a shame Lady Danbury’s backstory becomes the most convoluted of all the Bridgerton characters who appear in Queen Charlotte, because both actresses who play her absolutely kill the role.
As do both Charlottes, who make Queen Charlotte worth watching alone. Rosheuvel and Amarteifio are witty, cunning, devilish, and are the most dynamic leading characters of any of the Bridgerton chapters thus far. Charlotte’s romantic plot is, unfortunately, the most rushed out of the bunch, but Amarteifio carries the show anyway on her own charisma.
If you watched Bridgerton for the steamy scenes, Queen Charlotte will likely satisfy that desire, if only in its first three episodes. But those yearning for a more sweeping romance will be disappointed by this spinoff. Queen Charlotte’s most impressive feat is giving a stronger definition to an eccentric character from the main series, who now has a clear identity that will lead to a more complex understanding of her in future seasons of the original show. She’s a feisty one, that Queen Charlotte, and I love her ten times more now that I know her rich history.
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