Welcome back, my far flung readers. You’ll forgive me if I am all in a flurry, it’s just the newest installment of BRRRRIDGERTON has landed in our Nextlix queues with the satisfying thump of more than 400 minutes of backstory and contextualization for our most beloved matriarchs of the ton. The series is called Queen Charlotte, and it is, of course, her background and love story upon which our gaze will be most fixed, but make no mistake, we will also learn about the events that shaped a young Lady Danbury and, to a lesser degree, a much younger Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton. The story moves back and forth between the early years of King George and Queen Charlotte’s reign and the more contemporary times with which we are more familiar, though without any of the frippery and frivolity of the younger people courting and bickering and flirting and panting heavily at each other, which is a welcome relief in this particular spin off. Are there some bumps along the way? Indubitably. So, loosen your proverbial stays, grab your favorite fainting couch, and get cozy whilst we sip some delicious tea and discuss all things related to the more mature and, in my opinion, most interesting women of the Bridgerton universe. 

When we begin, young Charlotte (India Amarteifio) is living out a seemingly happy and apparently wealthy existence in Northern Germany with her brother Adolphus (Tunji Kasim) until he signs a marriage agreement on her behalf with King George III. Charlotte, who is spying on the proceedings from the hallway, reacts the way you would expect a young Queen Charlotte might: by pushing over a bust of Julius Caesar in frustration and then running away. Then, before you can say “ bodily autonomy” they’re journeying off to London to bind these two very young strangers in an ironclad marital contract and the two countries in a coincidentally very strategic alliance. When they are about an hour outside of London, Adolphus points out that Charlotte looks like a ridiculous statue because she’s been sitting so still. She goes on to explain how delicate her gown is and how, underneath that, is a corset made of the finest whalebone and if she moves too much she “might be sliced or stabbed to death by [her] undergarments,” which, she adds, she has considered as a way to get out of this whole fiasco. “Oh, how joyful it is to be a lady,” she sighs, carefully enunciating each syllable while letting her head loll with the movement of the carriage. When pushed further by her insistent needling, Adolphus finally admits that felt he had no choice but to sign agreement with the British Empire, but this doesn’t make Charlotte feel much better about how they hauled her from happy obscurity to come marry the king of the British Empire. She was queen long before she was crowned. 

Young Charlotte peeking between two ornate doors.
Just a seventeen year-old girl spying on her entire life being decided.
Young Charlotte slouched in a carriage in an ornate light blue dress as her brother sits across from her looking bothered.
Imagine the utter discomfort of traveling like that and trying to stay all perfect and then being reprimanded for not being animated enough?! He’s lucky she didn’t remove a whale bone from her corset and use it to filet him.

And worry she should, because upon arrival in London she is inspected by King George’s mother, Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley)—who tells her she has good hips and it will be her job to bear many children for the King—before licking her thumb and swiping it across Charlotte’s cheek as if to see if her color rubs off. Charlotte looks at her in quiet outrage while the gathered gaggle of white Lords look pointedly away. And this is how we learn that the Bridgerton universe was most certainly not always a post-racial society. There follows a private discussion between Princess Augusta and her gaggle of gangrenous advisors about the brownness of Charlotte’s skin, which they find somewhat surprising and do not like. It is, they say, “a problem.” However, then the Princess decides they will simply spin the whole thing as a Great Experiment. They’ll add to Charlotte’s court, expand the guest list for the wedding, and give Black and brown people titles and entrance into the ton (though not real equality at first). Up until this point, wealthy Black and brown people were excluded from the titled class and, although the men may have been educated at the same schools, they appear to operate in separate social circles with ample racism and bigotry from whites. Mind you, these changes are put into place mere hours before the wedding. And to be clear, this was technically all the King’s idea, even though we’ve not seen hide nor hair of him. To quote Princess Augusta, “I am only his mother. I say nothing.” This pretty much sets up the message for much of the series: It may be a patriarchal society, but women wield the real power behind the scenes. Is this realistic? Friends, this is a fictionalized account and I am more than happy to buy into it.

Young Charlotte looking to the side as Princess Augusta's thumb wipes at her cheek.
Ugh. Get used this horrifying group of grey-haired goblins.

Charlotte, completely unaware of this last minute shuffle, is still trying to get any information about the King out of anyone, but they are all staying quite mum, which makes her worry that he’s some awful river troll. In an act of bold desperation she escapes from her careful handlers and makes it to the gardens. Just as she is using some wisteria vines to try to climb over the wall, a young Genetically Blessed Man appears and asks if she needs assistance. And let me tell you, friend, there are meet-cutes and there is Queen Charlotte unwittingly meeting King George while she’s trying to escape over a garden wall because she’s so worried he’s a troll or a beast. There’s her, not really looking at him, asking him to please lift her up so that she can reach a higher place and make it over. There’s him refusing and her haughtily asking if he’s refusing to help “a lady in distress.” To which he replies that he refuses “when that lady is trying to go over a wall so that she does not have to marry me.”  There’s the way his head tilts at this point and one eyebrow cocks playfully. There’s the way Charlotte gasps softly in horror when she realizes who he is, but how you can also tell that he is already entirely smitten with this outspoken woman who he gently pulls up from her formal curtsy and insists call him “just George,” before telling her if he weren’t a king he’d likely be a farmer. Most amazingly, though, he gives her a choice about marrying him. Now, is this really a choice? Probably not. King George has far less power at this point than he realizes, but it is an important moment between the two of them and in their relationship that he lets her decide in her own mind if she wants to marry him. With, like, five seconds to spare. But whatever.

Young Charlotte in a white dress climbing up a wisteria vine that is heavy with flowers.
Believing that she could climb even this high and then come down with nary a flower or leaf stuck to her dress requires a full suspension of disbelief.
Young King George with an eyebrow raised and his hands behind his back as he stands between hedges.
Oh, well hello there King George.
Young Queen Charlotte realizing that the man in the garden is King George.
I love that her expression is purely one of “Oh fuck” when she realizes he is the king.
Young George clasping Young Charlotte's hand.
Long live the small gestures!!

Now, we know this will eventually become a great love story, but we also know that since it starts with the wedding we are going to have to wade through a LOT of other shit to get there. It should come as little surprise then that after the wedding King George drops Queen Charlotte off at Buckingham House with all of her stuff and her loyal man Brimsley (Sam Clemmett), who is always five steps behind her whether she likes it or not, and then just leaves. Not only does he leave, but he essentially leaves her a prisoner since she’s on her “honeymoon” and so can’t go anywhere or see anyone. Charlotte is wildly pissed. And rightly so. This woman has traveled across the continent to marry this man who spent five minutes making her knees all wobbly at the end of a garden path only to dump her in a giant house by herself with a thousand servants but absolutely no one to keep her company? Now, because we know where George ends up (and we know the factual story of King George III) there is clearly a big old secret about his mental health that he’s desperately trying to keep hidden from Charlotte. It’s not until the fourth episode that the series switches to George’s perspective to show how he spent those first days of their honeymoon worrying that he would never be good enough for his new wife, and his more and more desperate attempts to “fix” himself. I do wish in that particular part there had been less rehashing of previously seen scenes, but I get what they were trying to do. It just felt repetitive and I felt like we could have gotten there another way. 

Charlotte in her night clothes laying back on her bed with hands raised screaming in frustration.
Young King George standing shirtless in a hay wagon holding a pitch fork.
Obviously, this scene was really very pivotal to the whole season.

Meanwhile, we meet a young not-yet-a-Lady Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas) at a most horrific moment, which really should come with a trigger warning for sexual assault, so consider this yours. Her husband (Cyril Nri), to whom she was promised when she was a toddler, is decades her senior, but very much below her in pretty much every other way. You have to empathize with the anger he feels about being excluded from white society, but that is exactly where my empathy stops. He uses Agatha’s body exclusively for his own pleasure, dismisses her intelligence, claims her successes as his own, and is an all around grotesque specimen. When they are finally granted entrance into the ton he says that “The King sees me for who I am. My value. My worth. He understands that the old days are over…that men are men, regardless of where they came from.” This is all, quite frankly, hogwash. All of these decisions that gave him entrance into upper echelons of power were made by women behind the scenes.  However, whether he admits it or not, it is Lady Danbury who uses her small amount of power and access as leverage for more equality for Black and brown members of the ton, more stability in their status, and more security for future generations. Plus, she does it all without ever compromising her blossoming friendship with Charlotte, which is tough to do since Princess Augusta, desperate to stay abreast of her son’s every movement, keeps dangling entitlements in exchange for inside information. But just as you would expect from the Lady Danbury who we know and adore, young Lady Danbury doesn’t cave to pressure, which is no small feat when the future of your entire family hangs in the balance. I have to ask, though, why exactly do the folks involved in the making of Bridgerton feel like we need to see SO many scenes of marital rape played off as almost farsical? It’s stomach churning and concerning. It certainly could have been conveyed without being shown again and again and again. And its viewing time that could have been spent on the growing friendship between Agatha and Queen Charlotte, for example, which is more alluded to than shown, which is highly disappointing. We also learn more about Lady Danbury’s past dalliances with men after her husband (thankfully) leaves this mortal coil. And while the fact that Lady Danbury managed to get her physical and emotional needs met while choosing to never, ever tie herself to another man is unsurprising, but with exactly whom she got up to some hijinks was a bit of a jolt. And I guess to some degree, I question why it was this white man who was the first to show her that sex could be pleasurable.

Young Lady Danbury in a yellow dress with her awful husband.
Young Lady Danbury is perfection, but did they try to play her husband for humor? Because his character should not have been.

Let me say here that the casting for the younger versions of both these women is impeccable. India Amarteifio is a powerhouse of presence in her own right, but with her crown of natural hair and facial expressions that subtly echo the grown Queen Charlotte’s, she feels every inch the embodiment of the young queen. Arsema Thomas with her intense, searching eyes and authoritative walk is everything you would expect of a younger Lady Danbury, but with so many more layers folded into her stoic face and raised chin. That woman has been through it and still came out the other side with abundant empathy, kindness, and joy. Long live Lady Danbury! And while we’re careening off into this side note, can we just discuss how well the people involved in Bridgerton nail casting people with explosive chemistry every single season? Yes, I am for sure speaking of the romantical chemistry between Charlotte and George which burns fiery bright and makes you heave all the sighs. They also understand the importance of small moments, like hands clasping and fingers grazing and eyes meeting and mouths simultaneously smiling. These people make you believe in a love that you know doesn’t fully exist because they’re only showing you the highlight reel, but it doesn’t matter because you want to be hoodwinked by it anyway. Or at least I do. But I also appreciate how much they care about chemistry between friends. Both older and younger versions of these women have fantastic chemistry as they chat about the mundane and eventually, eventually allow themselves to delve into the deeper, darker areas of themselves. And these sparks, these connections, are they not just as important as romantic ones? They are, indeed. 

Young Lady Danbury and Young Queen Charlotte sitting on a couch together as they talk.
Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte seated in wooden chairs in front of large glass doors as they have tea.

In the present time, Queen Charlotte has just lost a granddaughter who died in childbirth, which leaves the throne in quite the muddle when it comes to an heir. Charlotte becomes quite frantic about one of her thirteen (my word!) children finally producing just legitimate heir, and, as you can imagine, she is none too kind about it. What we learn in the backstory of Charlotte is that accepted George entirely for who he was, at one point saying, “I care not for his sanity. I care for his happiness. I care for his soul. Let him be mad if mad is what needs.” This is, quite frankly, what we all want to hear about whatever kind of darkness we fear in ourselves and try to keep hidden from others lest it scare them off. Certainly, now you could argue that perhaps treatment would have also been helpful, but the treatments he received then were horrendous and counterproductive. So, Charlotte and George love each other as they are and as they can. But because so much of her focus is turned to making sure that he can maintain his rule as a King and that her subjects have equality and titles, the idea is she does not have the energy or time to be a mother to her own children, who know her mostly as their Queen. The same is implied, I think, of Lady Danbury and her children. She was first bound by a marriage not of her own choosing, predicated on wealth and power, filled with children, whom she loved, through intercourse not of her choosing that gave her no pleasure. And then she must work so hard to ensure that she, her children, and others will continue to have access to rights, privileges, and property that it appears that mothering was something she had to delegate to others. However, I wish they had investigated this more. Shown us more of their decisions about motherhood and its implications. Instead, it’s all a bit fuzzy and rushed, passed over for more time spent on blushing lovers. It is, though, to compare them to Lady Bridgerton, who has a home overflowing with children and the apparent privilege of time and energy to mother. It seems odd to say she has more privilege than the Queen, but there is a reason that this entire series is called Bridgerton.

Queen Charlotte from the back and some of her uncooperative sons as they lounge about.
Lord Bridgerton winking at the camera with a half smile.
Speaking of mothers, Violet Bridgerton’s own mother is cast a bigot and snob while her father is the genial, open-minded, supportive, equal-rights supporting kind of man we so often find in this kind of period drama, and I’d like to reiterate that I’m tired of it. Is this man appealing? Of course, but why does he always have to built on the back of nagging, trite, bitter, angry woman? This man right here IS ALWAYS BENEFITTING FROM THE PATRIARCHY and if he’s not actively working to dismantle the system the holds down non-white men and women then he’s most certainly a part of the problem. Affable, agreeable, kind, approachable, loving, intelligent, attractive, but still absolutely part of the problem. So let’s stop writing parts for men in period pieces like they’ve hung the moon just because they recognize their daughters are smart and that people deserve equal rights while they do little about it other than shuffle their feet and occasionally encourage a girl to reach higher than her station. Mind you, I’m not excusing his wife, who is awful, but at a minimum, stop making mothers the butt of the joke between fathers and daughters.

Now, among my favorite things discussed in the present time, and then woven back in via stories of the past, is the story of Lady Bridgerton’s garden reawakening. To be clear, she is not speaking of literal peonies and hydrangeas. She’s speaking in metaphors to Lady Danbury about how she misses her husband, but she also just misses sex and feels guilty still wanting sex. And this is when Lady Danbury tells her that she has had her garden plowed by other men just for pleasure. As Lady Danbury tells it, “We mothers and aunts and leaders of the ton, we spend our time endlessly matchmaking, talking of wooing. Of love. Of romance. But never for anyone mature enough to truly understand what any of it means. What it is to go without it. What it is to lose it…as women we are never the topic of the conversation…We are untold stories.” Which is really why I wish this season had been more evenly balanced between past and present. I had hoped we would get to see more opening up of the present Lady Danbury, Lady Bridgerton, and Queen Charlotte, instead of just a thorough telling of their backstory. I mean, did I swoon my way through all the hours of the will-they won’t-they back and forth between young George and Charlotte? I did. But I was almost more captivated by the few minutes we actually got to see of Queen Charlotte and King George connecting in present day Bridgerton. I’m immensely glad to have the context for these women, but now I want more of their stories to unfold as they are now. 

That said, it would be galling if I didn’t mention the relationship between young Brimsley and the King’s man (Freddie Dennis). It was unclear when their romantic entanglement started, how they managed to pull it off without getting caught, for how long it went on, or why it ended, but oh my stars did the few moments of them together make me want to know more. These two young men, absolutely devoted to their jobs, living in a time when their relationship was punishable by death, trying to carve out space for their own pleasure and companionship. 

Brimsley's and Reynold's white gloved hands just touching as they stand next to each other.
Again. Let’s hear it for the small gestures. The smallest of moments. The fleeting glances. The merest brushes. The intakes of breath.

I’ve surely gone on too long. You’ve likely run out of tea, or it’s at least gone stone cold. My point is that this spin off is largely good stuff. Extremely good heaving swoony sighs about people in the throes of an everlasting love. Great for adding depth to characters that you already feel a strong affinity toward and only want to delve deeper into, though it could have given us more in certain areas. (Appalling for how it addresses marital rape.) Solid for understanding how the ton came to be as idyllically race-blind as it appears to be in the first two seasons of the series. Wonderful for feeling like you can raise your fists and say, Yes! Women are getting shit done. Even when you don’t like what they’re getting done. They are the ones getting done. Personally, I wish that it had spent slightly less time stretching out the past romance of young Charlotte and George and more time letting me gorge myself on present-day versions of my most favorite snarky ladies of the ton, but there’s always the next spin-off for that. The one where the three women solve murder mysteries perhaps? With a side romance of some kind, of course.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

Leave a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s