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 Charles (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 Charles 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 Charles. 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.