Queen Charlotte took an important leap from Bridgerton and it paid off
Dare we say it, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is better than the original series.
Sure, there will be a camp of viewers who think that the original is better, some claiming that this new prequel series is better, and others who refuse to pick one over the other. But I'm of the firm opinion that with its nigh on perfect performances from India Amarteifio, Corey Mylchreest and Arsema Thomas, the new drama is an excellent leap away from the original.
Why, you may ask? Well, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is simply braver in what it sets out to do as a period drama. You go into it thinking that this series is a sweet love story but actually, it deals with a whole host of profound themes.
The new six-parter centres on Queen Charlotte's rise to power, moving from current-day Germany to England in order to marry someone who she'd never met: King George. We follow them from their electric first meeting to their new life together, but it's one that's marred by a major secret of the King's and also by high society's attitudes towards Charlotte as England's first Black Queen.
While the characters of Queen Charlotte, King George III and others in this universe are real-life historical figures, in this series they are re-imagined and given intricate, multi-layered plot lines that make them unexpectedly relatable.
Bridgerton has come under fire since it first aired back in 2020 for portraying an excellently diverse community of high society individuals, but failing to discuss the subject matter of race itself. How did the people of the Ton get to be in the positions of power they're in? Is Regency England not capable of having important topical conversations?
Thankfully, this prequel looks the topic plainly in the eye and underlines the pervasive culture of racism in Great Britain, one that isn't overt and is categorised by power and privilege. You can't help but watch on in silent awe as young Charlotte has to not only figure out life in a new country, but one that doesn't really accept her as royal, either.
Bridgerton fans will know of the mystery that surrounds King George's isolated existence and it's explored deeper here, chronicling his emotional journey with his mental health, but also how the views of the time made him feel like a monster. Some of the series's most harrowing scenes come from the depths of the palace's basement where he is locked away – despite being the King of England – and is waterboarded, starved and tortured all in a bid to rid him of this mystery illness by the villainous Doctor Monro.
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It's desperation that is making George seek this course of treatment and his growing feelings for Charlotte are clear as he undergoes days of this, unable to initially tell her about his struggles. One of the most interesting things that the series does is help the viewer take a moment in George's mind by exploring what we've seen so far (being told who he's marrying, the wedding, the motivations for wanting to move separately from Charlotte) from his point of view in episode 4.
The episodes are propelled forward by this couple's love for one another, something that is clear as Charlotte struggles to make sense of this secret and how it impacts her own life and standing. Nevertheless, her sense of duty to the crown and to producing suitable heirs is never far from the forefront of her mind.
But those first episodes are dotted through with painstakingly lonely moments for the young Queen who is secluded, left to eat meals alone and, despite the magical wedding they shared, barely sees George in the early days of their marriage. So, you can't help but feel choked up when, in episode 4, she confronts George's mother, Princess Dowager Augusta.
She shouts: "I did not ask to sit at the helm of the world. I did not even ask for a husband. But if I must have one, if I must leave my home, my family, my language, my life, it cannot be for a man I do not know."
Charlotte has been made to feel "deficient", as she puts it, on account of the way she looks and where her family comes from, mainly by Augusta and those in her court. Actually, if there needs to be a person scrutinised and talked about in the relationship, it's George. Because she is not only young but also a woman, Charlotte is made to feel as though her voice can't ever be heard, that her concerns aren't valid and that her opinion doesn't matter.
One of the great things about period dramas when they're done well is that they capture the essence of the time period they're set in, warts and all. In Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, there are the dazzling gowns, the beautiful hair and surroundings, the regal balls and wealth. But unlike Bridgerton, which mainly relies on the former – along with a heavy dose of raunch and sex – the prequel explores mental health and the lack of language surrounding it in this period of time.
It handles how loved ones deal with such debilitating illness and that sense of duty of the time that is rooted in patriarchal attitudes and classism. There's sex of course, but more importantly, we see Charlotte navigating her own sense of sexuality with the help of Agatha, as well as comedic discussions about older female sexuality. And lest we forget the touching exploration of companionship in light of the loss of a loved one, something that Golda Roushevel's Charlotte is navigating even though her husband is alive.
The prequel takes the glitz, glamour and some of the beloved characters that we know from Bridgerton – but that's pretty much it. The rest of it is thoughtful, well written and encompasses some all-important conversations, making for a delightfully different series altogether.
Queen Charlotte is available to stream now on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream. Take a look at the rest of our Drama coverage, or find out what else is on with our TV Guide and Streaming Guide.