As the world prepares for the coronation of King Charles III and his wife Camilla, Netflix is launching a fictionalization of another infamous time for the British royal family: the marriage of King George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a German noble and outsider (in a long line of controversial outsiders marrying into the royal family leading up to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex).
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is creator Shonda Rhimes’ prequel to the streamer’s sudsy, Regency-era historical romance Bridgerton. Rhimes is an executive producer on both series with Chris Van Dusen serving as the creator of Bridgerton, which is based on Julia Quinn’s book series.
There are other comparisons between the two reigns as well.
Harry discussed his agoraphobia in his memoir, Spare, which was released earlier this year. As already seen in Bridgerton, which is set a generation or so after the new series, Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) is content in her reign, George (James Fleet) struggles with mental health issues.
And, while Meghan famously opened up in a 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey about the racism she experienced while living among the royal family, this new series stars mixed-race actress India Amarteifio as a young Charlotte (Rosheuvel, who identifies as biracial, appears in flash-forwards in Queen Charlotte).
Amarteifio chalked these similarities up to a “timing thing,” but “the fact that we’re still having the same conversations hundreds of years later; it just shows how far we’ve got to come,” she told Rotten Tomatoes.
The Queen Charlotte star, as well as other actors, talked to Rotten Tomatoes about these and other key issues (including the “Boinkerton” factor) of their new series.
The first season of Bridgerton made headlines for its color-blind casting of romantic leads played by Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor. And the second season subtly alluded to race and cultural differences between the partners played by Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley through things like showcasing a Hindi wedding ceremony, Queen Charlotte hits the issue head-on.
During the first episode of this prequel, Michelle Fairley’s Princess Augusta and her advisors discuss the concept of The Great Experiment — that they’ve brokered a deal for a woman of a different race to marry her beloved son, George (Corey Mylchreest).
“The reason why Bridgerton is so beautiful is because we explore all these topics,” Amarteifio said. “It’s great to have social commentary on topics that are that are prevalent right now.”
Especially since the real Queen Charlotte’s ancestry has been a topic of discussion, Mylchreest added that “as an actor, it’s amazing to be a part of something that is going to create a world in which there’s logical, grounded, natural, realistic reasons for the casting and that, outside of the world of the show, creates such positive representation.”
But it isn’t just Charlotte’s lineage that’s a factor. This story also introduces Arsema Thomas as a younger version of the formidable Lady Agatha Danbury, the character Adjoa Andoh plays in Bridgerton. Stuck in an arranged marriage to an older, wealthy blowhard played by Cyril Nri, Agatha isn’t sure why her family is suddenly asked to court and why she is to be one of the new queen’s ladies in waiting. That is, until she sees Charlotte.
Thomas based her version of Lady Danbury on her grandmother, who ran away from an arranged marriage when she was seven but ended up in another when she was 13. She said Agatha realizes “Charlotte’s power before Charlotte does herself.”
“She’s like ‘this is the catalyst for change. my life is going to be different; all of our lives are about to be different. And even though I can’t do it myself, I can advise the woman who can be part of that change,'” Thomas continued.
Because Charlotte has a different complexion from Agatha, this also furthers a conversation of colorism that we are having now (if not during the days of Regency England). Thomas said that “growing up, I’d always see the dark girl as the best friend. And to see a similar thing, where it’s a mixed race girl and a Black woman who bolsters her and supports her.
“I think Shonda Rhimes does it well, because she does this thing of not preaching to the audience,” Thomas continued. “But you can see it. And she knows you can see it. And I think that is a conversation that [the characters] do have. It’s the reason why Agatha knows that she, herself, is not going to be able to do anything. But this woman who is much lighter, [and] who is in a seat of much more power can do something.”
King George III is a favorite for modern entertainment fodder. In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, he’s a egomaniacal scene-stealer who believes the Thirteen Colonies will come crawling back to him. In writer Alan Bennett’s play (and subsequent movie) The Madness of King George, his mental health proves to be his undoing.
When Queen Charlotte starts, he’s a young man with an interest in astronomy who tries to hide his health concerns.
Mylchreest based his character research on Andrew Roberts’ biography, The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III, as well as the monarch’s journals and papers that were recently made public. From the latter, the actor said he learned that “this guy was really intelligent, really cared about people [and] had his heart in the right place [and was] incredibly devoted to his wife.”
There is, however, a scene early in the series that he said demonstrates that, prior to George’s marriage to Charlotte, there was a “pre-existing knowledge of the fact that he needs a doctor and that there’s something that requires that help.”
Amarteifio credits Rhimes for “bringing the severity of mental health and race and class and these really old topics into the show.”
“It’s such a topical conversation,” she added. “Men with mental health issues is a real important thing that we, as a society, need to tackle and we need to talk about.”
But George’s mental health isn’t the only thing that defines him — especially not on a show like this. When asked if he’s up for the pressure of following in the footsteps of British actors like Colin Firth and Hugh Grant when it comes to representing Americans’ Anglophile fantasies, Mylchreest laughed and said, “In my time, I’ve tried to do many different Hugh Grant impressions.”
“George — although he’s got all these demons and problems that gets explored greater depth as the series goes on — is someone that’s had his whole life to get incredibly developed at putting up not necessarily a front, but he’s had to be charming,” Mylchreest said. “He is surrounded by people that are constantly in awe of him or constantly requiring him to do this thing. We forget that being king is a job, and he’s had to be good at that job.”
Rosheuvel’s Charlotte knows how to command respect and that she’s entitled to it. When the series starts, Amarteifio’s Charlotte is still finding her voice — or rather, she has the drive, she just has to know that it’s OK to use it. She rebels against her brother Adolphus (Tunji Kasim) in both words and actions when she’s told of the match he’s made for her without her consent, and she even attempts a runaway-bride move.
“Tom Verica, the director, and Shonda were very clear from the beginning that they didn’t want me to emulate anything that Golda had done,” Amarteifio said. “They were very clear that they wanted this to be a young Charlotte; she’s her own character almost because we’ve got the luxury of time between her being 17 and the age that she is in Bridgeton.”
One of those tiffs with Adolphus comes with a searing indictment of the fashion requirements foisted upon women at the time. Amarteifio said it wasn’t hard to channel rage for that scene.
“With the nature of wearing the outfits, you don’t have to pretend,” she said. “The way I’m walking is because the dress is heavy. It’s beautiful, but what you see is what you get. We’re wearing the real corsets. We’re wearing the real bodices. We’re wearing the pantyhose. We’re wearing the socks. So it was quite nice for me, as the actor, to not have to think too much about that. It was more just being in it and using what what I’m actually feeling.”
Bridgerton has the nickname Boinkerton because of its many sex scenes. But, even if it didn’t, Charlotte and George had 15 children. It’s inevitable that this prequel will include some coitus.
All three Charlotte actors thanked intimacy coordinators Lucy Fennell and Lizzy Talbot for making these scenes work on their show. Amarteifio said she also watched interviews with Bailey and other Bridgerton actors to see how they discussed filming the scenes. And Mylchreest said that this part of production started so quickly that “we were already doing intimacy rehearsals before we even knew what scenes they would be attached to.”
“I always make the comparison between the intimacy scenes and the dance scenes,” he said. “Because there’s no dialogue but they still do a lot … Nothing is gratuitous. Everything has a purpose. Everything drives a story.”
Amarteifio said that she and Mylchreest also strengthened their working relationship by spending the time they weren’t filming breaking down the scripts.
“Me and Cory are very academic when it comes to annotating and understanding text,” she said. “As actors, we’re trying to always figure out why we’re doing something and always questioning the writing — not from a point of view of ‘Why am I doing this?’ but for the character: Why is a character in this situation?”