Trigger Warning: This review mentions sexual assault and torture against people with disabilities
The immensely anticipated Bridgerton prequel Queen Charlotte is finally out. Queen Charlotte focuses on the romance between Queen Charlotte and King George and the lives of the older members of the ton during this time.
Seasons one and two of Bridgerton handled race really beautifully. With season two even having Bollywood-esque aspects to aid a love story starring two Desi women. When the prequel announced, I, being the prequel-loving gal I am, was beyond excited. And when the trailer dropped, I ran to the company Slack to claim the story because I was sure that after all this time I’d get to see a Bridgerton-like story for Black women. However, after watching the show, I was more than just disappointed. I was disheartened. The newly written book cover describes this as “the love story that changed the ton”… and I am so sorry, but Queen Charlotte is not a love story.
Before I get into my opinion of the show I’d like to remind everyone why we watch Bridgerton. While Bridgerton is based on the real world we do not watch Bridgerton for an accurate history lesson. This is not a documentary or a docuseries. We as the viewers know what actually happened during that time, we don’t care. Bridgerton helps us escape, it seduces us with the idea that love really can conquer all. While Bridgerton may not necessarily be escapism it is hopeful realism. Bridgerton shows us an imperfect but more ideal world where characters of marginalized identities can still find perfect love. Or…so I thought.
Queen Charlotte should have been the Bridgerton universe’s greatest love story thus far. This is after all supposed to be the love story that changed not only the ton, but England itself. Instead, this was the most tragically realistic and incredibly traumatic story we could get from the Bridgerton universe.
The first episode beautifully sets up the potential of a great love story for Charlotte and Geoge as they have incredible chemistry. He’s swoon-worthy and charming and she’s stubborn and witty. I immediately shipped them. That lasted for all of episode one as the rest of the show centers on Charlotte playing detective to figure out what is wrong with George while they are both traumatized along the way. They have their fun moments, sure, but for the rest of the show, we are riding off of the potential between them in episode one. They fight for one another because of their “great love”, but I honestly did not know they loved one another until they said the words because they had no reason to as their “great love” was never established.
Unlike other Bridgerton romances, this story does not care to seduce us. We don’t get any quirky dates, many cute outings, or really any romance. What we do get is a whole lot of unnecessary trauma. George suffers torture for his disability to the point where it’s irresponsible to not put a trigger warning. He is literally strapped to a chair and tortured. Charlotte becomes a tool for “The Great Experiment,” the desegregation of races in England, and a replacement for George’s mother. Sure we know that Queen Charlotte and King George may not have the happiest of endings in the present day. But this is their love story, so where exactly is the love?
Queen Charlotte also shows us the grim reality of marriage through other couples with the lackluster relationship and incredibly uncomfortable sex scenes between Lady and Lord Danbury. These sex scenes aren’t really sex they are rape. The scenes are nonviolent and played off as comical as Lady Danbury has to find the humor in her situation, but it is sexual assault. Lady Danbury’s story is…the most tragic in the Bridgerton universe. Groomed from age three and taken from Sierra Leone to England to be used for a man’s pleasure and reproduction. Only to have to fight for the rights of herself and the entire ton of color because she happened to be a first. She gets no flowers, no love, nothing. The only person she finds some love in is a white man who she cannot be with. But at least she’s happy in the present day, right? Wrong.
In the show, present-day Lady Danbury says one of the most heartbreaking sentences I’ve ever heard “you loved, I loathed… your heart is full, mine starves.” She decides against marriage, which could have been an important statement on self-love. But we see her so sad and lonely in the present day that it makes her independence, which had the potential to be powerful, feel inadequate.
Queen Charlotte took this woman who was shown to be independent and powerful and made her feel regretful and bitter when she didn’t need to be. She suffered and endured and for what? For others around her to get the chance to be happy but not her? I do not understand why her story had to be so traumatic from beginning to end. The Black women in this story endure so much trauma. In fact, I’ve never heard the word “endure” used so much in a story. The conversations about these Black women’s love and feelings are never to help them, it’s to help someone else, usually white, and that’s disappointing. The Black women of Queen Charlotte suffer and they don’t need to.
Watching this show was an…odd experience. I can tell that everyone involved really thought this was a love story. From the dialogue to the classical covers of famous love songs by Black women, this was supposed to be a love story. And it almost was! The acting, cinematography, and production were some of the best I’ve seen.
India Amarteifio (young Queen Charlotte) commands a room and her chemistry with Corey Mylchreest (young King George) is unmatched. Arsema Thomas (young Lady Danbury) and Sam Clemmett (young Brimsley) also both put their foot into their roles. Everyone truly showed up to work, the only thing that didn’t was the story. Shonda Rhimes says that, with Queen Charlotte, she wants people to “ feel like this is what happens with real love. Love is hard. It’s difficult. Love has many layers.”
But why is love only hard, difficult, and layered for Black women? Do Black women not have enough representation of difficult bittersweet love already? Why is it that once we start telling the stories of Black women that is when we decide to get realistic? Rhimes says she wanted this story to feel empowering, but as a Black woman I don’t feel empowered I just feel discouraged. Every Black woman in this show suffered. Romance stories about Black women are already few and far between with an oversaturation of struggle love stories. Giving a Black woman a traumatic and hard love story is not unique. It’s overdone. I think giving the Black women in this story happy endings would have been more empowering than showing love as a challenge we have to face.
I’m disappointed, but I shouldn’t be surprised given that Julia Quinn, writer of the Bridgerton books, doesn’t believe in happy endings for Black or queer people. In a quote, she says she writes about “happy, love stories” and that “I don’t think Black people and homosexuals were living that way during the time that I was writing. And I don’t want to write about that.”
At first, that quote almost makes sense, we all know the reality of Black and queer people at the time. However, we also know that no matter how high up the food chain white women were susceptible to incredible amounts of patriarchal violence at the time. In Quinn’s own story, Violet Bridgerton lost the love of her life, and still somehow she is able to have a happy ending even in Queen Charlotte. You can tell realistic stories and still not have your characters end up sad and traumatized. I find it very interesting that Quinn is able to suspend disbelief for only white women. I also find it interesting that now when money is present Quinn can change her tune and all of a sudden write about Black and queer people, but I digress.
White women are gonna white women, that’s not new. What is disappointing is the knowledge that Shonda Rhimes partnered with her for this new story despite these beliefs. This isn’t me saying that I blame Rhimes for how this story unfolded. This is me saying that there is no other Black woman in the industry that has the power she does. And it is upsetting to me as a huge fan of her work and as a Black woman that we couldn’t get a happy love story even from her.
It is upsetting to me as a viewer that the few recurring Black women characters we have were treated this way. It ruins Bridgerton as a whole for me because I know these characters suffer currently as Queen Charlotte wears the title in the show as “the loneliest woman in England” and that is heartbreaking. Queen Charlotte shows me that even in this world where things should be different Black women still lose. Now instead of believing Bridgerton is a place where people of all marginalized identities can find happiness because love conquers all I see the truth. In Bridgerton, love only conquers all for some not all, because it certainly does not for Black, queer, or disabled people.
I did not want to come to this conclusion, I was incredibly excited for this show. But after watching Queen Charlotte, I was sad. I was sad for the characters I’d come to know and love. For Lady Danbury, whose heart is still starving. Queen Charlotte, who is so lonely she can’t even let her children get to know her. For King George, who suffers abuse from childhood through his adulthood. And for Brimsley, who never got to have a great long-lasting romance. This is not what this story should have been.
It should’ve been a story where Black women got a chance at equity and happiness. It went so well that everyone else got the same chance and was inspired to find love. Instead, we got a story about how the most marginalized people in society endure for the success of “The Great Experiment” so everyone else didn’t have to. I didn’t get to escape in Queen Charlotte at all. I was just reminded of real life where dating is hard for white women but impossible for Black women. Queen Charlotte holds back from true greatness because Julia Quinn’s negative beliefs about Black and queer people flourished. In 2023, when Black women already go through so much trauma in real life and when we have a shockingly low number of fictional trauma-free romances this was not needed.
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