Love has power — so much so that it’s enough to turn a period romance into a blockbuster franchise. Bridgerton has become one of Netflix’s most popular shows thanks to its frothy mix of romance and intrigue, snappy dialogue delivered by appealing actors and resplendent costumes and production design.
Premiere date/time: Thursday, May 4 at 3:01 a.m. ET
Where to stream: Netflix
Episodes: 6 (hour-long)
Now, Shonda Rhimes and company are applying that formula to a prequel spinoff, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, the newest best show on Netflix. The spotlight moves from the young, eligible Bridgerton siblings to the breakout royal character. Played by Golda Rosheuvel in the flagship series, Queen Charlotte is a sharp-tongued, imperious gossip hound. But who was she as a younger woman?
That’s where India Amarteifio steps in. As teen Charlotte, she is willful and obstinate, but also naive and uncertain. Especially when it comes to matters of love. Her marriage to King George III (Corey Mylchreest) vaults her to the top of society, but as the show reveals, even the most powerful woman on Earth can be lonely.
This Queen Charlotte review contains light spoilers.
Queen Charlotte review: A diamond of the first water
The show begins when 17-year-old Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Amarteifio) is promised to marry Britain’s King George III (Mylchreest) — sign unseen and without her input. And she is none too happy about the situation.
Upon arrival, Charlotte’s unease grows when she’s inspected like a brood mare by her future mother-in-law, the haughty Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley), and told that she must begin producing heirs, stat.
The first meeting with her future husband goes much better. They have a meet-cute in the garden, where George reveals himself to be handsome and charming. But once they are married, he seems to become a completely different person. Charlotte is left largely alone to navigate her new life as queen of England.
Their already-troubled relationship isn’t helped by the meddling of Princess Augusta, nor the outright skepticism from the prime minister and other politicians. Bridgerton glossed over how high society became integrated, but the prequel explains it as “the Great Experiment”: People of color were given titles and lands to smooth the way for the king’s interracial marriage.
One of those newly-minted nobles is Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas). She’s as cunning and fierce as her elder self, played by Adjoa Andoh in both the prequel and OG Bridgerton. Lady Danbury soon befriends Queen Charlotte and works herself into the good graces of Princess Augusta, using those connections to elevate her family and other aristocrats of color.
But the show doesn’t spin out this political thread for long. Lady Danbury’s upward climb is soon engulfed in romantic intrigues. As for Queen Charlotte, she takes up the issue only once. Her own love story takes primacy.
It is a true love story, though it is beset by obstacles, heartache and tragedy. Oh, and sex. So much sex. Even when they are at odds, George and Charlotte cannot deny their attraction to each other. It makes sense that they later end up having 15 (fifteen!) children.
The show toggles between two time periods. In the later years, Charlotte frets over the future of her husband’s line. Despite the size of their family, they have no legitimate heirs.
In her bridal year, Charlotte despairs of having a good marriage. Clearly, she and George work things out. Yet, they have to grapple with the elephant in the room: his mental illness. The doctors of the time offered so-called treatments that were awful and barbaric. Charlotte and George are living a couple hundred years too early for safer, more effective methods.
Young Charlotte finds the love she craves, yet it will come at a cost. Elder Charlotte has paid that cost, but will get the heir she wants (spoiler alert: it’s Queen Victoria).
Queen Charlotte review: A cast that’s good as gold (and Golda)
Bridgerton might’ve spun off any number of side characters for their own series, but it was no surprise that the one selected was Queen Charlotte — largely thanks to a magnetic performance by Rosheuvel. Her Charlotte had nuances and shades that just begged for further exploration.
But this prequel wouldn’t be such a success without the luminous Amarteifio, who is truly the diamond in a glittering cast. Her Charlotte is both tough and vulnerable, stubborn and sweet. And Amarteifio shares sizzling chemistry with Mylchreest, which makes the romance between Charlotte and George so believable and something to root for.
Next to Rosheuvel, Andoh was the flagship’s other breakout, so it’s great to see her steely-eyed resolve here. Thomas is perfectly cast as the young Lady Danbury, who is just setting forth on a journey to become the cool operator of her later years.
The prequel puts a little more focus on the support staff. Hugh Sachs makes a welcome return as elder Brimsley, the queen’s long-suffering secretary. Sam Clemmett is excellent as the younger Brimsley, whose private life proves to be as interesting as any aristocrat’s.
Queen Charlotte review: Verdict
As a spinoff of Bridgerton, Queen Charlotte only needed to follow the original recipe. It does that with aplomb and panache. All the ingredients are there: an attractive and appealing cast; romance and sex; a dash of history and politics; gorgeous costumes; lavish sets; and excellent, anachronistic pop songs played as orchestral numbers.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story may be mostly froth and steam, but it has a beating heart underneath the ruffles, corsets and wigs. It’s a love story that will put a smile on your face and possibly make you fall down a Wikipedia history hole. And that, dearest readers, is quite a treat.