Sex, sex and more sex. After clocking up more than 300 million views in its first week, the Bridgerton spin-off Queen Charlotte is yet another runaway success from Netflix http://Netflix.com. Billed as ‘a Bridgerton story’, it returns to the original show’s roots – that were somewhat toned down in series two – with lots of rumpy pumpy. Sex in the dining room, sex in the bath, steamy sex dreams, extra-marital affairs, quickies between work for the footmen. You name it, they do it. How anyone has time to go about their normal daily business is anybody’s guess.
And all against a backdrop of beautiful houses, stunning costumes – not that anyone keeps their clothes on for very long. And horses. Lots and lots of horses that are central to every period drama. Let’s not forget those exquisitely manicured gardens, too. How anyone manages to take time out from having sex to trim those lawns is a small miracle.
The winning formula is unmistakable. It’s a cleverly orchestrated piece – or cynically manufactured, depending on your viewpoint – that prepares the audience for the forthcoming third series of Bridgerton, and it has money-making spin-off written all over it.
But where Bridgerton was based on the characters in the books by Julia Quinn, Queen Charlotte is a made for TV prequel, with a follow-up book written by Quinn and Shonda Rhimes http://shondalandmedia.com, the show’s creator and the jewel in Netflix’s crown. Rhimes also wrote five of the six episodes.
Taking the character of Bridgerton’s character Queen Charlotte, the prequel takes us back to the day of King George’s marriage to the 17-year-old Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz in 1761. As with Bridgerton, we are warned from the start that this is ‘fiction inspired by fact’ and that ‘All liberties by the author are quite intentional.’
Charlotte’s brother Adolphus (Tunji Kasim), the head of the family, has a difficult job persuading his sister to go ahead with the marriage. ‘There are worse things than marrying the King of England,’ he tells her. Quite! Marrying The Spare, for one.
At first, you think you are being led into Hallmark http://hallmark.com movie territory and it all feels a bit sickly sweet. Charlotte (India Amarteifio) is climbing a wall, trying to escape her nuptials, and seeks the help of a handsome man who happens to be wandering the gardens. Opening up about her dreaded fate to what she assumes is a monster, lo and behold the guy turns out to be King George (Corey Mylchreest) himself.
As their eyes lock, we are reminded of the sexual tension between Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon (Regé-Jean Page) in the first series of Bridgerton. It’s a clever audience enticement to invest in the couple’s relationship.
Come on, mate. Get a move on, we yell! She’s halfway up the wall creeper, skirts hoisted up, and you’re flirting like Adam in the Garden of Eden before he realized there were other women in the world other than bunny boiler/snake charmer par excellence, Eve.
They finally make it to the ceremony, kiss each other like it’s their first McDonald’s following a burger famine, and then…nothing.
Nada. Zilch. She’s up for it. He isn’t and goes home to his private residence on their wedding night. You feel as if nothing but a cattle prod is going to stir George into action.
So, what’s wrong with him? Does he just not fancy her? Is he impotent? Is he gay? Does he have a disease? Can he just not do the business because of his seeming manic obsession with the telescope in his observatory? And is said telescope a euphemism?
The straying away from what initially appears a soppy romantic drama are immediately felt, and King George’s real life mental health problems cast an interesting shadow over the production. Does the meshing of the two disparate themes – sex and mental health – really work? I’m not sure. With sex, we’re in comfortable and familiar territory. Mental health problems? Less so. And it’s slightly jarring.
It’s up to the newly titled Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) to instruct the young Queen about sex. ‘Marriage is a duty, not a pleasure,’ she says, over some charcoal drawings of prostrate couples. Her own experience is lying on her back – many times – while her much older husband pounds away. That was a good ride,’ he one time tells her, rolling off. Maybe Lady D isn’t exactly the best teacher.
When Charlotte finally does the deed with George, she explains in advance that ‘I do not like the part where my head hits the wall over and over again. Is there a way to avoid that?’
It’s a laugh aloud line – until you wonder whether the show is brushing over what might be an issue of non-consensual sex between Lady Danbury her husband.
Queen Charlotte also brings us Bridgerton’s first gay romance, the King’s right-hand man, Reynolds (Freddie Dennis), and the Queen’s, Brimsley (Sam Clemmett). They’re at it so often, you feel an incompetent terrorist with a defective musket could take the royal couple out and it would be a week before this pair would notice. The formality with which they conduct themselves outwardly compared with life behind closed doors is hugely entertaining, even if the token gays feel a little woke.
At the heart of the drama is the integration of black and white in the royal family, so it’s certainly topical, especially when George’s mother Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) reacts with slight horror upon declaring that she didn’t think Charlotte would be ‘that brown.’
In flash forwards, the Queen is as fully integrated into royal life as she could possibly be and surrounded by her 13 children. She’s desperate for a so far non-existent heir though. ‘Are you making sure he’s putting it in the right place?’ she asks one of her daughters.
The Great Experiment – the coming together of black and white – feels a little forced in hitting viewers over the head with the issues, and the show has a tendency to be preachy. ‘It is time that we were united as a society, is it not?’ says Princess Augusta to a disgruntled and shocked court. Forget George’s problems. Everyone quite clearly thinks she’s barking mad.
Slight criticisms aside, as the opening credits say: ‘Enjoy.’