Dearest loyal readers,
As more than one distinguished member of the Ton understands, the announcement of a new prequel lately inspires a sensation of resignation among those with refined tastes. Prequels, once a source of excitement, used to promise the delicious disclosure of stories once hidden within a fog of secrecy. In recent times, however, the obnoxious onslaught of these stories has come to represent the worst of modern storytelling. Plodding, uninspired, and boorish, prequels are now the one viewing invitation every modish member of society longs to decline.
And so it is with no small amount of pleasure, dear reader, that your longtime correspondent on these matters can report that a new debut has somehow defied all expectations. The rumors are true: Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is, in fact, a rare gem among the prequel set.
Queen Charlotte is preceded by a duplet of notable but not unimpeachable entries into the Netflix coterie: two Bridgerton seasons, each of which took society by storm. The successes of those glittering darlings were undeniable, but they also left certain learned bluestockings shaking their heads gravely at some of their more unfortunate missteps. To put it bluntly, they were façades. Lacking substance and devoted to faddish frivolities, those seasons swept onto the shore of high style and then washed out to sea again with nary a lasting impression left behind as a memento. This, gentle readers, is what results from building one’s narrative world on a foundation of inference and careful omission.
It is precisely this quality of the Bridgerton family that led your trusted correspondent to view its newest member, Queen Charlotte, with no small amount of concern. The only thing less promising than a prequel, one assumes, is a prequel to a story that’s shown so little regard for its own history. Which is why no one could be more taken aback than I to discover that Queen Charlotte is not just superficially delightful, but indeed, notably attentive to the logic of its narrative world. It is, one nearly quails to suggest, quite thoughtful about its position as the wellspring of this imaginative yarn. So far from empty nothingness, Queen Charlotte makes an effort to embrace precisely those qualities its fatuous forebears so fervently sought to avoid.
In addition to the ribald and quite enthusiastic demonstrations of physical affection fans of Bridgerton have come to expect, Queen Charlotte also positions itself as the earliest source of this fictional world’s Great Experiment. Forced into a politically expedient marriage, we learn, King George III and Queen Charlotte’s nuptials are also the impetus for the (intentional and distinctly awkward) end of racial division among London’s high society. By shifting between that well-crafted backstory and a new tale from the Bridgerton world’s current timeline, Queen Charlotte manages to escape the exact fate this doubting viewer most feared.
Queen Charlotte’s newest lead actors are charming, with Corey Mylchreest as a dashing King George, India Ria Amarteifio as an especially captivating young queen, and Adjoa Andoh making a welcome return as Lady Danbury. Its adaptation of the documented life of a mentally ill monarch is poignant to the point of real distress, and it understands how to inhabit that tragic story without undermining the previously established fustian buffoonery that defined its earlier installments. Wigs still tower high and gardens still unfurl in a glorious sweep of petals and greenery. The tiresome devotion to Regency interpretations of modern pop songs also remains but is blessedly diminished.
For enduring devotees of this fictional realm, it may also be of note that Queen Charlotte charts a new course in the territory of, shall we say, arousing closeness between members of the same sex. Without stepping beyond the boundaries of polite society and into that private sphere of intimacy, suffice it to say that readers of this publication might find themselves quite shocked — or even, perhaps, titillated — at some of the exercises of masculinity herein depicted. Across this alarming topic, however, let us now draw a veil of propriety, so that viewers may be allowed to pierce that mantle of decorum in the privacy of their own sitting rooms.
Loath though I am to engage in self-criticism, reckoning with this new entry has caused some flashes of contrition. Perhaps I judged the prequel set with too much prejudice. Perhaps Queen Charlotte is proof that prequels can be more entrancing than previously imagined! Or perhaps, like Queen Charlotte, more prequels need to spend some quiet moments of careful reflection about why they exist at all.
All six episodes of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story will stream on Netflix beginning Thursday, May 4.