Thursday, May 4, 2023

REVIEW: 'Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story' - Anger Defines Charlotte Leading Up to Her Wedding in 'Queen to Be'

Netflix's Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story - Episode 1.01 "Queen to Be"

Betrothed against her will to King George, young Charlotte arrives in London on her wedding day and faces scrutiny from the monarch's cunning mother.

"Queen to Be" was written by Shonda Rhimes and directed by Tom Verica

King George's marriage to Charlotte transformed the face of nobility throughout the United Kingdom. That resulted in the essentially race-blind world depicted in Netflix's Bridgerton. It's not completely ignored. However, that show benefits from race being an intriguing subtext instead of as the primary driver of conflict in its 19th century narrative. That was refreshing and invigorating in a lot of ways. Issues of race and class are certainly depicted in that story. They aren't always done with the most tact. Moreover, they simply cannot be ignored while detailing Queen Charlotte's origin story. Her presence changed the world. As such, race has to be at the forefront of the narrative. After examining Charlotte, Princess Augusta acknowledges that the color of her skin is only a problem if the monarch declares it to be a problem. Instead, it's better to project all of this as intentional. Charlotte was skeptical about the arraigned marriage from the moment her brother signed the papers. It was meant to be her noble service in the name of a lucrative trade deal between their countries. Charlotte is expected to produce numerous royal heirs. That's her responsibility. She is so much more than a human incubator though. People have opinions of her. Meanwhile, she doesn't receive any answers about the King until he's standing right in front of her. She was willing to run every step of the way. She couldn't marry someone she didn't know. Everyone believes it should be a great honor that she was chosen by the King. She wants an understanding of the person behind the title. She has options in ways others like Lady Danbury didn't. Charlotte's opinion shifts the moment she has a meaningful conversation with George. He shows his charm and wit. He bestows onto her a choice. She was never asked what she wanted to do. He knows he can't stop her from climbing over the wall. She ultimately decides to walk down the aisle. She sees a life she can build with George. He wants this to be a personal relationship. It's not all about strategic alliances and the destruction of racial barriers. It's about two people willing to love each other. That's the performative aspect. That solely creates meaningful visuals. Lady Danbury is inspired upon seeing a future monarch who looks like her. She immediately extends her hand in friendship. That offers the potential for more. She's an ally in a world that's vicious and cruel. Charlotte understands that. She gets lost in the fantasy too. She receives confirmation that the King is good and charming. And then, everything shifts once the ceremony concludes. He lays out the terms of their relationship. That wasn't part of the conversation that occurred beforehand. It's expected they will maintain separate residences. Princess Augusta sees the value of diversifying the court to ensure Queen Charlotte doesn't stand out for the color of her skin. And yet, Charlotte still ends up completely isolated.

All of the stubbornness and passion that Queen Charlotte is known for is on display. However, it's also a narrative about a young woman learning the rules of a new society. She is told to lower her expectations. The British monarch doesn't display the same European extravagancies as the rest of the continent. Charlotte is expected to fall in line with traditions. That's argued through the design of her wedding dress. Augusta prepares something much more muted and conservative. Meanwhile, Charlotte had a gown made that fully displays her identity. This is what this union produces. It can't be ignored. Charlotte changes the world once she takes that first step. Of course, it's a little awkward to incorporate a story from the timeline established in Bridgerton. That's mostly a convenient way to get these characters as played by the same actors. Golda Rosheuvel has always been a scene stealer as Queen Charlotte. It makes perfect sense to design a spinoff around her. However, this is a prequel. As such, the show needed to find an actress who could radiate that same energy. That is immediately palpable with India Amarteifio. It's wonderful casting. Moreover, the story from later in Charlotte's reign immediately proves just how much she still loves George. That relationship has always been a tangential concern. It's heightened drama that the Queen gets caught up in the matchmaking that goes on around the ton. It's silly. She's as obsessed with Lady Whistledown as the rest of the nobility. She sees it as a threat to the monarchy. Someone anonymous is posting their opinions which receive just as much attention as the Queen. The drama built in those reports isn't as serious as some treat them. And yet, Queen Charlotte faces a true crisis. The heir apparent has died. And now, she's desperate for one of her dozen children to produce a legitimate heir. It's chaos that doesn't truly happen with much specificity. It requires the Queen to look inward. That's where she needs to direct her attention. This mission matters to the future stability of the country. That pressures weighs on her. She can't properly mourn a tragedy. Instead, she's just as desperate for people to produce children. That's what all of this boils down to. As such, it's shocking when George doesn't want to perform that marital duty during their wedding night. It's obviously presented as some secret. One that creates tension within this marriage right away. They don't immediately live happily ever after. Their love story is grand. It's not without its struggles. Charlotte doesn't understand. George doesn't communicate his desires. He simply expects his orders to be followed. He has that influence as monarch. It's just different from the expectation he fooled Charlotte into believing. The marriage starts with deceit and betrayal. The show has to be careful and precise in depicting this ambiguity without betraying the transformational nature all of this casts over the world. That's a lofty ambition. At least the premiere starts off with the reassurance that more time in this universe has the potential for meaningful and nuanced stories. Part of that comes from Shonda Rhimes at the helm. It's also the natural intrigue and tension that comes from two people drawn to each other despite coming from two different worlds. That's a trope for a reason after all.