In the Bridgerton Cinematic Universe — the BCU, if you will — it’s expected that glamorous balls, fancy gowns, and romantic longing will reign over a backdrop of classical pop covers and a bevy of beautiful people of different races. In the BCU, diversity isn’t just a smart marketing tactic, aimed at capturing the attention of legions of historical romance nerds of colour (present company included!) who have been desperate to see some melanin on screen, it’s also been touted as a win for representation on TV and a sign of progress (or delusion, depending on who you ask) in the genre . And yet, so far, the fact that the Bridgerton family loves to get their swirl on, or that the series is set in Regency-era England (a notably racist era) has barely been acknowledged in the plot of the first two seasons. But for the show’s highly anticipated spinoff about Queen Charlotte, the Black woman who rules over this fantasy world, that tip-toeing around race is going to change.
“[Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story] is going to be fabulous because Shonda Rhimes has taken the story we already know, and she's [flipped] the lens of it and gone ‘what if we look at the backstory?’” Adjoa Andoh, who plays Lady Danbury, told Unbothered on the red carpet of the NAACP Image Awards. “You see what happens when a young — true to history —- mixed race woman ends up in the court of the English aristocracy. What happens? How does she navigate [that world]?”
Historically, Queen Charlotte is known as the wife of "mad" King George III and is said to have African ancestry. According to the Guardian, her doctor (a dude named Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar) reportedly described the queen as "small and crooked, with a true mulatto face,” and a historian named Mario de Valdes y Cocom claims Queen Charlotte was German and “directly descended from a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family.” Some historians dispute this claim, but there’s enough background there to build a fascinating story about how, at a time when she and her siblings were described as "ill-colored, orang-outang looking figures, with black eyes and hook-noses” (by historian Sir Walter Scott), a royal young woman met and married the most powerful white man in Britain. Especially now, when we’re seeing how the Royal Family has treated Meghan Markle, the biracial wife of Prince Harry, an examination of how a non-white person navigated the upper echelon of British aristocracy would be right on time.
Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, by Allan Ramsay, who died #onthisday in 1784. Edinburgh-born Ramsay learned his craft in Italy under Francesco Solimena. #art #gloriousGeorgians pic.twitter.com/G2M36Wy2FA— Catherine Curzon (@MadameGilflurt) October 12, 2018
“We’re going to see who becomes [Queen Charlotte’s] allies. How does she make alliances? What people are there for her?” Andoh continued. “What's wonderful is you also get to see the great love story between the Queen and George. How did that come to be? What were the complications? What were the challenges?”
When I mentioned that past Bridgerton seasons have yet to tackle race head on, Andoh brought up a moment in its first season: “We had a little nod to it in season 1 when I was talking to Simon,” she reminded me. That scene she’s referring to between Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) and Lady Danbury is notable because it’s the only overt reference to the racial division in the BCU. The two talk about why they’re the only Black royals. Lady Danbury says, “Look at our Queen, look at our King. Look at their marriage, look at everything it is doing for us, what it is allowing us to become. We were two separate societies, divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us.” It’s a scene that gave us a tease of Queen Charlotte’s backstory, but it was disappointedly brief and left us wanting more. The scene felt like quick plot exposition to brush over the characters’ identities instead of giving us a deeper look into their cultural standing and their history. Andoh promises more nuance in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.
“In this show, [race] is much more central in the narrative... You see what happens when a young mixed race woman ends up in the court of the English aristocracy. What happens? How does she navigate that world?”
“In this show, [race] is much more central in the narrative,” she said. “It's not the only narrative. There's lots of narratives, but it is a much more centrally-acknowledged narrative in this show.” When I shared that I’ve been waiting for the series to dig more into how race plays into this universe, she replied, “I think we all have.”
As for the other narratives the show will dive into, Andoh teased plots that will revolve around how our fave Bridgerton aunties first connected. “What if we take Queen Charlotte, Lady Danbury, Violet Bridgerton and find out how they get to be who we see in Bridgerton? And we all like to know that kind of back history, don't we? So you get the delight of finding out who they were,” she said. “You see [Queen Charlotte] coming to court. You see the arrival of Lady Danbury. You find out how they get together? You find out what [Lady Danbury’s] relationship with Violet Bridgerton — who's still a young kid at this point — is. And those young actors are just knocking it out of the park.”
Newcomer Arsema Thomas will play a young Agatha Danbury in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, and Andoh praised Thomas for her portrayal. “We had time together before she started shooting. She's a fabulous actress, and there's a photograph of her now and a photograph with me when I was doing a show called Casualty, which is a medical series in the U.K. about 20 years ago,” Andoh recalled. “And it's like looking in a mirror. We look so alike. So, it was really fantastic and I'm really delighted to have her play a young version of me.”
Arsema Thomas is playing young me - Lady Danbury- great casting huh?! Queen Charlotte we’ll be coming atcha!! @KVHendry @bridgerton @shondaland pic.twitter.com/geuC4ejgcL— Adjoa Andoh (@andoh_adjoa) March 30, 2022
And as for whether present-day Lady Danbury will finally get to partake in some of the – ahem — hornier scenes Bridgerton is known for, Andoh said with a laugh, “I’ll just have a call to Shonda and ask her.” Then, she leaves us with an exciting tease for those fans hoping to see Lady Danbury get some action in Bridgerton Season 3. “I would like to see it, and maybe she does,” she said coyly. “I can say no more!”
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story drops on Netflix May 4, 2023.