“Bridgerton” is back with its third and best installment, “Queen Charlotte,” which follows its titular character in two timeframes. In the first one, we meet 17-year-old Charlotte, played by India Ria Amarteifio. She’s a bright and determined young woman who chafes at the oppressive expectations around her gender, even as they box her in. We open as her brother Adolphus (Tunji Kasim) signs her marriage contract. She is to be the next Queen of England even though she’s never met her betrothed and has no wish to leave her home in Germany.
This story is framed by one taking place in the same period as the first two “Bridgerton” seasons. Here, we follow the middle-aged Charlotte, played by Golda Rosheuvel, reprising the strong performance that inspired this spinoff. As such, we also spend time with two of the previous seasons’ most notable matriarchs Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) and Lady Violet Ledger Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell).
“Queen Charlotte” explains how its titular figure became a strong, mercurial, and loving woman. As far as backstories go, it has enough plot to stand on its own and a strongly-drawn protagonist. “Queen Charlotte” is at its best when charting which facets of our heroine’s character are innate and which are born of her circumstance. But the real reason “Queen Charlotte” exists is to let us visit the land of Bridgerton (it’s even subtitled “A Bridgerton Story”) with its pretty costumes and accents, post-racial musings, and, of course, sex.
I might as well start there and say there is, indeed, sexy sex in this one. There’s also romance, regret, and less satisfying coitus played for laughs. It is somewhat hard to believe that teenage virgins who just learned the mechanics of sex are having that great a time, but this is the universe of “Bridgerton.” Outside of our main heroine, there are some other satisfactory pairings and at least one great conversation from the older set about desire’s continuing ability to “bloom.”
As in the first season, sex is a major plotline, but “Queen Charlotte” is not a battle between genders like its previous installments. Instead, its primary conflict is around mental health. Our heroine is marrying the “Mad King of England” after all, a hard truth she must learn and reconcile with throughout the show’s six episodes. At the same time, we see the young George (Corey Mylchreest) fighting mental illness with all the medical knowledge available, which is to say not very much.
The show treats his psychosis kindly, never shying away from its consequences while also refusing to paint him as a monster or an imbecile. Instead, he is a troubled man but one worthy of love. The result is the rare compassionate and honest depiction of mental illness; the show allows George to be a compelling character, neither to be pitied nor feared.
“Queen Charlotte” also explores ideas around power and expectations—the ways they inspire some to rise to greatness like Charlotte, and the ways they pain and deform others like George. Here we also get a greater understanding of how “Bridgerton” arrived at its more-or-less post-racial society, and that part works too—it gives the Black characters, notably the young Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas), agency in fighting for and achieving equal access to the nobility.
The second timeline isn’t as compelling as the first. The elder Queen Charlotte isn’t given much to do but yell at her 13(!) living children in a plotline that wastes her talents and our time. And the elder Lady Danbury and Lady Bridgerton have an interesting but unnecessary arc that could have been saved for a different season.
Amarteifio seems born for the role of Queen Charlotte and gives a marvelous performance. There are echoes of Golda Rosheuvel’s interpretation, with a clear line from one woman to the next. But this is Queen Charlotte’s coming-of-age story, her sexual awakening, and her choice to step into immense power and use it for her personal and political interests. “Queen Charlotte” is worth the watch for Amarteifio’s performance alone.
“Queen Charlotte” is fun and bawdy, offering more than the sometimes-questionable pleasures of “Bridgerton” seasons past. It gives us more than gossip (the Lady Whistledown voiceover is there still, courtesy of Julie Andrews) and delivers on the “great love story” it promised between Queen Charlotte and King George. “Great” because their love becomes strong and deep, a beautiful source of strength for them both, and because of the power they wield as monarchs over their kingdom. And finally, great because of the unmoving obstacles that remain in their path, making theirs a particularly bittersweet and compelling love story.
Entire season was screened for review. “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story” is on Netflix now.