Shonda Rhimes has returned with a bang with her new Bridgerton spin-off series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. The producer, author and screenwriter is best known as the creator, writer and executive producer of hit shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. And while she executive produced the Bridgerton series on Netflix, Queen Charlotte was written and created by her.
In true Shonda Rhimes fashion, Queen Charlotte is full of unexpected twists. The miniseries (six episodes) delves into the incredible love story of King George III and Queen Charlotte. It reveals not only the battle for their love but the power and responsibility that comes with being King and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, particularly securing their blood line with an heir. Even though the show makes it clear that the story is fictional, some elements have been taken from the true story of Queen Charlotte and King George III.
Many believe that the real Queen Charlotte had African ancestry as she was believed to be the ancestor of Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house. But this has often been brought into disrepute. The series acknowledges this in a scene where Young Queen Charlotte (played by India Amarteifio) is sitting down for a portrait and requests that the artist paint her darker. Her mother-in-law Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley), however, insists that she should be painted paler.
Another aspect of race explored in the series is Queen Charlotte’s hair, which is a symbol of her power. When she is younger her hair is in a more natural state and as her power grows, her hair becomes larger and features more elaborate hairstyles.
The real Queen Charlotte was German, the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Elizabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In the series, Queen Charlotte’s German background is referenced. And in real life, actor India Amartiefio has mixed ancestry – her mother is German and her father is Ghanaian – almost as if her casting was written in the stars.
While the original Bridgerton TV series was based on the books by Julia Quinn, Queen Charlotte was not one of the characters. Quinn recently told Oprah Daily: ‘I go back and forth between wishing I had actually written her in the books and then being glad I didn’t, because I don’t know if I could have done as good a job.’
Quinn’s also unfazed about what the real Queen Charlotte looked like: ‘I don’t think it’s ever going to be proven or disproven to be honest with you. But let’s say she was Black. And what if that was accepted at the time and people acknowledge that, and then she used that position to lift other people of colour to a higher positions in society. What would society look like?’
Queen Charlotte expands the Bridgerton universe and provides more depth to some of the characters we fell in love with in the original series.
Golda Rosheuvel, Adjoa Andoh and Ruth Gemmell reprise their roles as Queen Charlotte, Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton respectively. But we’re taken on a journey through their origin stories with an enjoyable cast of newcomers.
Amarteifio, as Young Charlotte, does a wonderful job portraying her older counterpart with a sharp intelligence yet loving nature, while Arsema Thomas captures the intelligence and cunning of a Young Lady Danbury. And adding to the young cast Corey Mylchreest as Young King George, whose complex character varies greatly from the other leading men in the Bridgterton series we’ve been introduced so far e.g. the philandering Duke of Hastings or the stubborn Anthony Bridgteron.
Not to mention Sam Clemmett, as young Brimsley, who is a surprisingly engaging character as we see his own love story unfold.
While there is still the opulence and grandeur of royal society, this series is a lot more intimate and reveals several underlying messages about the complications of race. The show contrasts between the past and present, which is fascinating to watch as we get to understand how much Charlotte really did love George as she fought for their love and navigated her power as a Queen. Alongside her story, we get more insight into Lady Danbury and her deep connections to both Queen Charlotte and Violet Bridgerton.
The series has parallels between Queen Charlotte and King George, and the present day Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. For instance, the portrayal of the royal wedding of Young Charlotte and Young George to older Queen Charlotte’s disdain for actresses as suitable wives for her sons. Even Frogmore cottage where Meghan and Harry used to live was purchased by the real Queen Charlotte Windsor Park in 1792.
Queen Charlotte continues the Bridgerton staple of using instrumental renditions of modern pop songs. This time there is a heavy focus on songs by Beyoncé, whose music is often the soundtrack of many Black women’s lives. Beyoncé often uses her music to speak to the experiences of Black women and Rhimes has done the exact same thing as a writer in this show. She provides subtle messages that connect to the lives of Black women right now but using the world of the Ton to discuss Black women’s issues – from ideas of love to learning how to fight what you want.
Adding to the show, a book titled Queen Charlotte: Before the Bridgertons came the love story that changed the ton… is set to be released on 9 May. Written by Rhimes and Quinn, it will serve as a tie-in to the miniseries. We usually see books turned into movies and TV shows, but we don’t often see the reverse happen.
Queen Charlotte is not only about Black women but all women – the struggle to have their voice heard, the challenges of being widowed, and the value of strong friendships. Rhimes’ ability to showcase social commentary throughout the show is a marvel and makes this six episode series a must-watch.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is currently streaming on Netflix.