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‘Queen Charlotte’ Review: Netflix’s Excellent ‘Bridgerton’ Prequel

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Because the subtitle suggests, “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story” is a prequel and spinoff to the hit Netflix collection, which adapts Julia Quinn’s Regency Period romance novels with the soapy, progressive sensibility of producer Shonda Rhimes. In observe, although, the six-episode collection is extra like “Bridgerton” Season 2.5. Although the story flashes again some 50 years to depict the titular monarch’s early marriage, it retains the flagship present’s stylistic emblems firmly in place, from the classical covers of latest pop songs to the voiceover by Julie Andrews’ Girl Whistledown. There’s even a timeline set simply after the latest season centering the social set’s elder stateswomen: Girl Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), and Queen Charlotte herself (Golda Rosheuvel).

“Queen Charlotte” isn’t a break from precedent. As a substitute, it’s a return to type for Rhimes, who serves as showrunner in her most hands-on function since “Inventing Anna,” a disappointing — if vastly widespread — tackle the Anna Delvey saga. Rhimes had beforehand delegated “Bridgerton” to creator Chris Van Dusen and author Jess Brownell, who takes the reins for the upcoming Season 3. However within the arms of the grasp who gave us “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” the “Bridgerton” universe turns into the very best model of itself: a horny, escapist love story with a maturity and substance that solely provides to its eroticism. “Bridgerton” was already a phenomenon. It nonetheless takes “Queen Charlotte” to unlock the premise’s full potential.

In Season 1, “Bridgerton” made its mark with express, athletic intercourse (no ABC censors right here!) and an alternate historical past of England through which the aristocracy is racially built-in. These parts had been so attention-grabbing they partly overshadowed the central relationship, a pleasant-enough pairing of two lovely folks. In Season 2, “Bridgerton” backtracked a bit, dialing means down on the nudity whereas additionally crafting a wealthy, craving romance that put its characters first. “Queen Charlotte” finally ends up with the very best of each worlds. The union of a 17-year-old Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and a freshly topped King George III (Corey Mylchreest) — sure, that King George — happens within the premiere, opening the door for all that comes after courtship, each emotional and bodily. Their marriage finally ends up pertaining to issues of race, psychological well being, bodily autonomy and, ultimately, the which means of want and long-term partnership previous center age, all points handled with due gravity with out killing the fantasy. 

It’s a slender line to stroll. Charlotte’s arrival in England events what courtiers deem “the Great Experiment”: the sudden, dramatic bestowal of titles, lands and privileges on choose folks of colour. As with all earlier makes an attempt to clarify precisely how race works on “Bridgerton,” each element prompts as many questions because it solutions. The precise Queen Charlotte, some historians imagine, might have had some African ancestry, which right here leads her future mother-in-law Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) to make feedback about Charlotte’s pores and skin tone clearly impressed by real-life royal drama. However Augusta shortly resolves to remake the the Aristocracy in her new member of the family’s picture, although it’s unclear precisely how they’re chosen or from what pool of candidates. There’s some resistance from the previous guard, although it’s by no means explicitly racist, once more begging some follow-ups concerning the preexisting established order.

Inquiring minds might be appeased by the chemistry between Amarteifio and Mylchreest, constructed by a extra fascinating battle than the everyday will-they-won’t-they. The query isn’t if these two will get collectively, however how they’ll navigate the inevitable obstacles now that they’re bonded for all times. Reveals like “Catastrophe” have explored this concept within the modern-day; “Queen Charlotte” takes unrelatable opulence and infuses it with emotion, at the same time as there’s loads of eye sweet. George struggles with what we’d now name psychological sickness, and was then deemed suits of insanity. His disgrace, her indignation at being shut out and their palpable attraction energy a curler coaster we will immediately spend money on.

The Queen Charlotte of “Bridgerton” is a peripheral presence, solely descending from her royal perch to situation proclamations and make reducing remarks in over-the-top outfits, to viewers’ delight. On a weaker present, our information of how her life seems would sap a prequel of suspense, or worse but, dilute the impression of Rosheuvel’s fabulously regal efficiency. As a substitute, Amarteifio credibly finds the roots of Charlotte’s willful, self-centered, typically petulant attraction in her teenage self. (In spite of everything, that mixture of traits is regular in any teen lady, whether or not or not she’s a queen.) Rosheuvel’s function underscores the continuity between the 2 actors whereas additionally giving grownup Charlotte her first actual subplot as she pressures her 15 youngsters to provide a authentic inheritor.

In its brevity, “Queen Charlotte” can strip down the broad ensemble of “Bridgerton” right into a extra centered story. The present nonetheless makes room for supporting elements like Charlotte’s footman Brimsley (Sam Clemmett), who’s engaged in a bootleg affair of his personal, and a younger Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas), not but a woman and in a loveless marriage to a rich older man. Thomas is a standout, and her character’s journey results in a conclusion which may as effectively be sacrilege within the marriage-obsessed “Bridgerton” milieu: that happiness might be discovered and outlined outdoors the context of tolerating matrimony. 

The “Bridgerton” venture is, at its core, to offer a conservative style a reformist sheen whereas conserving the underlying buildings intact. (This can be a present that may make Individuals root for the very man we declared independence from, give or take some informal mentions of the colonies.) Whether or not or not you approve of that purpose, “Queen Charlotte” is as near a flawless execution as its franchise has gotten but. Netflix is keen to broaden a few of its largest homegrown hits — “Stranger Things,” “Squid Game,” and sure, “Bridgerton” — into full-blown universes. However in its clear understanding of what makes “Bridgerton” work, and the place it might enhance, “Queen Charlotte” feels natural relatively than cynical. 

It additionally gives an excellent metaphor for what the very best spinoffs can do. In a scene that epitomizes the present’s frothy, typically humorous, insightful tone, Violet and Agatha euphemistically discuss with their libidos as a “garden”: one thing that may go dormant or develop lush, relying on the season. “Everyone has a garden,” Agatha says, an goal fact and a press release of function. Anybody can love and be beloved, and so anybody can star in a love story. “Bridgerton” is already a extra inclusive romance than most, however even its seasons finish with the delivery of a child or a stroll down the aisle. “Queen Charlotte” retains going, and suggests “Bridgerton” might, too.

“Queen Charlotte” premieres on Netflix on Might 4.



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