Shonda Rhimes makes good television.
It is dramatic, sensational, and tuned in to some of the world’s most divisive issues, too.
The triumph of her latest offering though, is not just in the sum of the parts, but in how the right quantities of brilliant scripting, plotting with forethought, diverse casting, dashes of whimsy, retaining good talent with the right compensation, and balancing in dashes of reality too, makes cohesive and impactful art.
The Shondaland team uses their Netflix budget to level up on the predecessor that started the more recent Regency era rave among streamers around the world, Bridgerton. Adapting elements from the same books by bestselling author Julia Quinn, and the collaborative novel she did with Shonda Rhimes, (Queen Charlotte: Before the Bridgertons came the love story that changed the Ton), this prequel spinoff is art in motion – a testament to the hundreds of production team members and hours that resulted in:
- A reimagined Regency era where blackness and romance, family, and duty, are centred without wholesale disregard for individual agency, and history as we know it
- Escapism – whether you’re there for fashion, love, beauty, fidelity, or drama
- Appreciation for Cinematography, and storytelling through lighting and camerawork – even to audiences who do not have a discerning eye for it in television
- Costume designs inspired by history but also by haute couture through generations, and subsequently influencing runway collections and street style in everything from maximalist accessorizing to a return to bodice-focused garb
- Upticks in tourism in locations the show films in around England but also in similarly grand spaces around the world where people can recapture the show’s Regency sophistication and peaceful mise-en-scenes
- More well-rounded eventing and food experiences centred on the Regency era’s aesthetic and regal atmosphere etc.
Art is there to make you feel something…to say something, and not merely just to be.
This is what Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story has succeeded in beyond the screen too!
One of the foremost coups of the limited series spinoff Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (besides excellent storytelling and escapism) too, is its triumph in making matriarchal black woman and their complexities feel seen and celebrated, without fetishizing.
Even in 2023, it’s still special to have black woman positioned in a Hollywood productions centre, and not drifting too far off her journey even once, for the sake of pedestaling a white character.
As Golda Rosheuvel (Queen Charlotte’s original on-screen iteration, pictured below) and young Lady Danbury, Arséma Thomas, referenced themselves, during the Netflix South Africa launch of the show, this is as much a simple (and tragic) love and life story, as it is very real moments which real people can see themselves in, in certain scenes.
Watch it for Lady Danbury – a resourceful and cunning woman with heart, grief, and great compartmentalization skills she uses to get her, and those around her, by.
Watch it for Queen Charlotte – a vexing powerhouse who steadily finds her voice (India Amarteifio playing the young version with such nuance) as she finds her feet, and love, and entertains herself with court machinations while her depths clamour to show themselves.
“The love of Queen Charlotte and King George united the nation’ — that’s one sentence in ‘Bridgerton,’ and to me that told a whole world,”Shonda Rhimes, in a New York Times interview
Watch it for King George – a shining example of duty and affluence, with an inescapable need for freedom & escape many can sympathise with. Historically, he was the first (British) king to study science, and he loved agriculture – thus earning him the nickname ‘Farmer George’. On-screen, he’s also got secrets – that lead to the unthinkable.
Watch it for Brimsley – whose loyalty and hustle, and discretion, make him a proxy many audience members can easily love. He’s also up to something scandalous though, behind closed doors.
And there are more (like Charlotte’s hilarious ‘school’ of children), from the help to the Ton, to gasp and giggle over, but you’ll have to watch the show to discover their origin stories.
REMEMBER: This is not a history lesson.
It is as much decent entertainment and visual art, as it is a dramatic and selective foray into European royalty and their histories, as well as echoing existing racial tensions and cultural commonalities like relationship struggles.
Frankly, it’s just really good TV!