'Queen Charlotte' review: All the lavishness of Bridgerton, but none of its flightiness

Even while the series is set in the Bridgerton world, there is pathos at its heart


As a Bridgerton fan, I came to its prequel, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, with certain expectations―of regency balls, gorgeous men in pantaloons and side-burns, over-the-top family drama, the royal shenanigans of the scheming queen, the gossip columns of the mysterious Lady Whistledown and, of course, the bodice-ripping sex. So, Queen Charlotte came as a shock, almost a gut-punch, because it is nothing like the first two seasons of Bridgerton. Of course, it had all the lavishness of the series, but that was it. Because even while it is set in the Bridgerton world―where life’s greatest crisis is whether to wear tulle or silk for your coming-out ball―there is pathos at the heart of Queen Charlotte.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the show, it tells the story of the Bridgertons, one of the most prominent families of the ton. The first season followed the romance of Daphne, the eldest Bridgerton girl, and the Duke of Hastings. The second focused on Anthony, the firstborn son and heir to the Bridgerton title and estate. He is weighed down by the responsibility of continuing the line and is looking for a wife who reads, embroiders, plays the piano and above all, has good baby-bearing hips. Kate Sharma, of course, has none of these but he cannot keep his eyes―or hands―off her.

Queen Charlotte plays quite the matchmaker in both seasons. But what of her own love? The prequel focuses on a young and feisty queen, played to perfection by India Amarteifio, and her marriage to King George III. It is loosely based on historical events, like the deteriorating mental health of the king and the toll it takes on the queen. Unlike Bridgerton, Queen Charlotte is not an easy watch. This is no flighty romance with hunting parties and parlour games. It has at its heart a king whose losing battle with insanity is heartbreaking to watch.

There are moments of hope, like when Charlotte rescues him from the quack whose remedy for madness includes torturous ice-baths, beatings and applying leeches to the king’s skin. Throughout the show, the hope is dangled that true love might be his cure. When Charlotte and George share a stolen glance, have a romp on the dining table, go for a stroll together or dance at the first ball of the season, hosted by the queen’s confidante, Lady Danbury, you cannot help but hope that the demons have left the king. Queen Charlotte teeters on the edge of a happily-ever-after, but never quite tips over.

Some parts seem superfluous―like Lady Danbury’s brief affair with a married man, which goes nowhere in the end. Or Lady Violet’s (who is the mother of the Bridgerton clan) ‘garden blooming’ (a veiled reference to her libido) many years after the death of her husband, Edmund. But there is no one to ‘tend’ the garden, so that, too, is a dead-end. Initially, I thought even the plot device of shuttling between the past (where the queen is newly married) and the present (where the older queen is struggling to get her spinster daughters and whoring sons to produce a legitimate heir to the throne) was unnecessary and took away from the poignancy of the main storyline. Except that it all ties into a magnificent climax where the young queen segues into the older one, and in a moment of lucidity King George returns to the love of his life.

But that is the bittersweetness of it, because we know that soon, he is going to withdraw again into “the different worlds creeping” into his mind, into that zone where the “heavens and the earth collide”. Soon, the queen is going to go back to being “the loneliest woman” in the empire, as Lady Violet says. But for now, they have this moment. For now, happiness is theirs to grasp. And for now, that is enough.