How Queen Charlotte Fixes What Was Broken About Bridgerton

ANOTHER WARNING: If you’ve not seen Queen Charlotte, you might not want to read this.


If you didn’t know Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story was a Shonda Rhimes show, it wouldn’t take you long to guess as much. Five minutes into the premiere, the eponymous teen (India Amarteifio) is traveling by carriage from her home in Germany to England to wed a king she has never met. When her brother (Tunji Kasim), who arranged this marriage, remarks that she looks as stiff as a statue, Charlotte educates him about her clothing.

Whales died so I could look like this. All the finest corsets are whalebone. You would know that if you knew anything. If you ever paid attention, you would also know that the problem with whalebone is that it is rather delicate and also very, very sharp.

And, of course, I’m in the height of fashion, so this corset is quite snug. So I give the appearance of a statue—ridiculous to the eye, but that is because I cannot move, and because I must arrive on display, I am forced into a ludicrous gown so stylish that if I move too much, I might be sliced and stabbed to death by my undergarments.

It’s an unlikely monologue from an 18th-century royal but one that recalls Rhimes’ most indelible heroines. Olivia Pope in Scandal, Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder, Miranda Bailey in Grey’s Anatomy—these women are always pulling back the curtain to reveal, in impassioned speeches, how hard it is to make greatness look easy.

Queen Charlotte, a breakout character in Bridgerton, a Shondaland series that was not created by Rhimes and that takes place decades later than this prequel, belongs to this tradition. In writing the young queen’s story to fit her own favorite archetype, Rhimes fixes the biggest problem with Bridgerton: its anachronistic (or alternate-reality) Regency Britain simply doesn’t make sense.

The Bridgerton franchise, with its jewel-toned gowns and string-quartet covers of 21st century pop hits, has never pretended to be historically accurate. As Julie Andrews announces in a preface to the latest installment, in her plummiest Lady Whistledown voice:

Queen Charlotte “is not a history lesson. It is fiction inspired by fact. All liberties taken by the author are quite intentional.”

Such disclaimers have not preempted criticism from literal-minded history buffs and oversensitive cultural warriors eager to denounce any story that centers non-white characters as “woke.” Of course, the most vocal backlash has been to the franchise’s racial diversity. Its British aristocracy is integrated.

In season 1, white noblewoman Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) marries a Black duke, played by Regé-Jean Page. Season 2 finds her brother (Jonathan Bailey) caught between two half-sisters (Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran) from India.


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