Spoilers ahead. It takes less than an episode for the fairy tale romance in Queen Charlotte, the Bridgerton prequel created by Shonda Rhimes between the titular monarch (India Amarteifio) and King George III (Corey Mylchreest) to fall apart. After the franchise’s most memorable meet-cute to date, during which a sense of understanding and optimism silently settles between the couple thanks to palpable chemistry and the king’s charming introduction to his initially reluctant bride as “just George,” the pair are worse off than when they started as total strangers. George’s walls go up, conflict clear across his face, as he lets Charlotte know that she is to live on her own while he resides elsewhere, no questions asked because that is his royal command. The potential for true romance vanishes and George is simply Your Majesty once again.
The six-episode miniseries, which is streaming on Netflix now, traverses two timelines — the origins of young Charlotte and George’s love story and a crisis of succession for present-day Charlotte (played by Bridgerton’s Golda Rosheuvel). As the story goes on in the first timeline, the distance only worsens. Charlotte feels hurt and confused by her new husband’s actions, and clearly struggles with isolation as she is forced to eat meal after meal by herself, surrounded by royal staff who do nothing more than watch on. George, meanwhile, is hiding. Eventually, it’s revealed that the monarch is facing what appears to be unnamed mental health issues. He feels unworthy of his title, unworthy of Charlotte, and no one — except for a select few — can know.
“George has lived his whole life where no one sees who he is — no one wants to see who he is. He’s had to put on this guard in order to survive every day,” Corey Mylchreest, who plays Young George, tells Refinery29. While Mylchreest is careful not to pinpoint what George’s specific struggles are — there are many theories about the IRL King George III’s ailments, which include a combination of both physical health issues and mental illness — the actor put a lot of thought and research into what his version of the character is dealing with. “Emotionally, he doesn’t have anything, and now he’s got this affliction that is triggered by the fact that he has to put this crown on.”
Queen Charlotte has all the classic hallmarks that made Bridgerton so popular — fantasy, sex, corset-forward fashion, romance — but there is a heaviness throughout that you don’t get when, say, Anthony and Kate are smoldering at each other from across the dance floor for the 100th time. George does seek help from a doctor, whose archaic treatments look more akin to torture than anything else, and suffers in silence instead of letting his wife in. And when Charlotte does discover something more serious is wrong — after accidentally catching George talking to the sky in the middle of an “episode” — he retreats further, returning to his visits with the doctor in a dungeon-like basement that are wringing the life out of him.
Things only start to change when, fed up, Charlotte takes matters into her own hands. She charges into George’s home, is horrified by what the doctor is doing, and demands that it stops. She props her husband up and decides they will live under the same roof regardless of his condition, and his meticulously constructed walls come tumbling down. Hand in hand, they are lighter, the tension in their bodies easing. “Together, we are whole,” Charlotte tells George later on, their burdens not gone, but now shared. Just like in their first meeting, they are truly seeing each other.
Love cannot cure all, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, to share your struggles, is a sign of strength.
“This is a love story, primarily, and the stakes of this love story are higher than most people will ever experience,” Mylchreest says. “George and Charlotte see each other in a way that neither of them have ever seen or been seen. The most beautiful thing to come out of [their relationship] is that they are forced to see each other completely without running away. They are forced to love the darkest sides of each other. George, if he had his choice, would run away, but he is forced to let himself be seen, and through that he is forced to address his [struggles]. A problem shared is a problem halved, even if the problem still remains.”
And that, at its core, is what Queen Charlotte is about. Anyone familiar with Bridgerton has seen Charlotte’s inimitable rule and George’s continued afflictions. Love cannot cure all, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, to share your struggles, is a sign of strength. Even though this is a glitzy period drama set during a far off time that feels more fantastical than grounded in reality, that’s something Mylchreest hopes people remember.
“Any representation or exploration of [these issues] is going to be powerful simply because the show will be watched by so many people,” he says, explaining that he sees Queen Charlotte’s Regency romance genre as an advantage. Delving into big topics like love and mental health in an escapist setting will almost disarm viewers of the biases and lived experiences they have while watching the series. “I mean this in the most sensitive way possible: I view period pieces in the same way I view sci-fi pieces, in the same way I view action films, in the same way I view Pixar films. When a story exists in a world that is different from ours, it allows the audience to sit from a much safer and therefore much more open viewing experience. It’s like a setting where everyone can almost have a clean slate.”
Queen Charlotte is now available on Netflix.