Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, review: unexpectedly emotional spin-off will leave you weeping

India Amarteifio makes for a winning Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton's prequel - Liam Daniel/Netflix
India Amarteifio makes for a winning Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton's prequel - Liam Daniel/Netflix

A spirited girl from a mixed race background marries into the British royal family but encounters snobbery and prejudice from everyone except her husband. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is set in the 18th century but you might say it has a topical edge.

This is a spin-off from the main Bridgerton series, going back in time to the moment that Charlotte arrived in England from what is now Germany, as a bride for George III. There is a theory, based on some rather thin evidence, that the real Charlotte was noticeably of African descent. A disclaimer at the beginning of the show says: “This is the story of Queen Charlotte from Bridgerton. It is not a history lesson – it is fiction inspired by fact. All liberties taken by the author are quite intentional. Enjoy.”

It is a love story, and an adorable one at that. Seventeen-year-old Charlotte (a winning India Amarteifio) doesn’t want to be married off to a man she has never seen, but has little say in the matter. She’s bright and headstrong, and on her wedding day decides to leg it over the garden wall instead of heading down the aisle. But then she has a meet-cute with swoon-worthy George (Corey Mylchreest), and before you can say, “Gosh, great cheekbones,” they’re man and wife.

Grown women will lap this up, as they did with the first two series of Bridgerton and the Julia Quinn books on which the series is based, but really this show is perfect for 14-year-olds. In my day, we had Brat Pack films and Judy Blume books to fuel our romantic daydreams, and this is the modern-day equivalent. The storytelling is at the same level of complexity as a Jackie magazine photo-story.

The race element runs through the story but is treated with Bridgerton’s lightness of touch. Nobody wants a po-faced polemic about the Empire in a Regency romp. This is an origin story of sorts, so we learn why there are so many non-white faces among the aristocracy: the Queen Mother, worried that Parliament and polite society will turn against this “Great Experiment” of a mixed marriage, decides to populate court with people who look like Charlotte. Thus a woman who spends most of her time enduring dreadful sex with her elderly husband finds herself elevated to the title of Lady Danbury, and soon becomes Charlotte’s confidante.

Much of it is frivolous fun with a Beyoncé soundtrack, but the show has an unexpected emotional pull. This monarch is “Mad” King George, and his mental illness is explored in sympathetic terms. The final scene had me in tears.

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is on Netflix now