Warning! This article contains several spoilers about Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, like its mother series Bridgerton, is the result of careful thinking, loads of research, thoughtful writing, and skillful direction — to say nothing of its meticulously crafted hair and makeup, costumes, and set designs. It’s safe to say that Queen Charlotte creator Shonda Rhimes kinda knows what she’s doing at this point, which is why it might surprise you to learn that some of Queen Charlotte’s most memorable moments — those bittersweet final lines among them — were not exactly planned how we see them now. Rather, they came to be via spur-of-the-moment choices and happenstance. In fact, the very structure of the series wasn’t planned the way viewers ultimately saw it when its six episodes dropped on Netflix on May 4.

“I thought I was going to write four episodes, maybe three, and that would have been it,” Rhimes tells Shondaland. Her past hit shows, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and the recent Inventing Anna among them, were written with a team of writers. After conjuring the idea to tell Queen Charlotte’s origin story, however, she started writing alone, with two episodes (four and five) co-written with Nicholas Nardini.

“When I got into the writing of it, it was really easy to write episodes one, two, and three, but we weren’t even close to being finished,” Rhimes continues. “I don’t think people understand how exhausting it is to write and then have to shape a script for production. It’s a lot of work. We were already shooting. And I was like, ‘We’re moving a little too fast.’ That’s when I brought in Nick. There wasn’t a plan to write them all, but it was the plan when I thought it was going to be a shorter series.”

Rhimes’ unexpected creative choices turned out to be a boon to viewers. Over Queen Charlotte’s six revealing and illuminating installments, viewers gain insight into how young Charlotte (India Amarteifio) came to sit on the throne of the British empire — and how her arranged marriage to King George III (Corey Mylchreest) evolved into an actual love story built on sacrifice, acceptance, and commitment.

When we first meet Charlotte in the series, she’s a witty and fierce 17-year-old being whisked away from her native Germany to England to marry a man she hasn’t met. As her brother Adolphus (Tunji Kasim) explains, her marriage is about duty to country and service, and pained as she is, Charlotte accepts her responsibility with chin-up resolve (except of course for that brief moment in episode one when she makes a half-baked attempt to climb over a wall and flee).

preview for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story - Full Trailer

As the story unfolds, though, we learn more of all that Charlotte had to face in her new role: prejudice and bigotry, isolation and loneliness, powerlessness over her own body, and yes, the gradual discovery that George is dealing with a serious illness. Rhimes says she wanted to explore how people arrive at love — not so much in the “feelings” sense most of us equate with love, but the practical, sometimes unpleasant parts of love that make love really mean something.

“Long-term relationships,” says Rhimes, “are about constantly overcoming and constantly choosing again, and again and again, to love somebody. It’s a commitment that you make every day. And I wanted to show what that feels like.”

The true essence of the story isn’t what you might think

Though Charlotte and George’s relationship drives the Queen Charlotte plot, Rhimes says their courtship actually isn’t the true guiding concept of the series. “If you really look at the show, all of the moves are made by these women,” she says, referring to the ways Charlotte, young Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas), and the king’s mother, Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley), use their positions to advance their motives despite the constraints they live with as women.

michelle fairley as princess augusta and india amarteifio as queen charlotte in queen charlotte a bridgerton story
Michelle Fairley (left) as Princess Augusta and India Amarteifio (right) as Queen Charlotte in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

“They’re all basically shaping society and culture from the posts that they have. I just wanted to really show that kind of soft power — how a woman rises to power that way.”

How the Georgian era informed what we see on-screen

As in Bridgerton, Queen Charlotte’s women are tasked with navigating a society that places heavy restrictions on them, but there’s a marked difference between this world and Bridgerton’s: It’s set in the Georgian era. That time period had its own distinctly unique fashion, politics, and culture, which Rhimes learned about by devouring books devoted to that epoch. One such book was Avril Nanton and Jody Burton’s Black London, which ended up having a significant impact on the characters’ backstory. “It was really exciting to me to read about the many Black composers of the day,” she says. “And many Black society people. I made Agatha and Lord Danbury [Cyril Nri] off the idea that there were African royalty sending their children to boarding schools in England. That was something I’d never known either — that there were these incredibly wealthy Africans living in London in a parallel life.”

queen charlotte a bridgerton story l to r cyril nri as lord danbury, arsema thomas as young agatha danbury in episode 103 of queen charlotte a bridgerton story cr liam danielnetflix © 2023
Lord Danbury and Lady Agatha Danbury.

Another particularly resonant way that chapter of history manifests in the series is through medical science — or more to the point, its limitations. Rhimes says, “That scene where Charlotte’s lying on the bed, and she’s being examined … that scene felt so visceral to me when I was writing it because it was very much all of these other people in control of her uterus. That felt very modern to me, and terrifying that it’s so modern.”

Why Shonda Rhimes was careful depicting King George’s ailments

King George suffered a great deal at the hands of ill-informed doctors too. Particularly in episode four (“Holding the King”), viewers saw in graphic, heartbreaking detail how George’s internal suffering was compounded by the barbaric “treatments” he endured under the care of Dr. Monro (Guy Henry), which by any modern standard would amount to torture. Rhimes and the team took great care to not trivialize George’s condition or even name it, since no real, formal diagnosis ever emerged. “There have been lots of theories, but there’s never been an actual diagnosis of King George,” she says. “It really bothers me that we run around talking about the ‘madness’ of King George and sort of make fun of it in other storytelling or in other places in history, so I really wanted to try to make that human and humane for him.”

Rhimes’ approach to George’s condition was another element that developed in ways she hadn’t anticipated at the outset. “A lot of how we developed this was, I wrote that first episode scene where he goes running — the big scene where you sort of find out what’s going on with him. I had them film it, and then I watched how Corey physicalized it and wrote from there,” she reveals. “Because if he found it in his movements and in his portrayal, then I wanted to be able to help keep that in line with the story. I didn’t want to veer off in a different direction. I loved how Corey was portraying it; he gave it a simplicity that didn’t feel over the top, that wasn’t mocking it. It was just right. And so I feel like we crafted that together, although he didn’t know it at the time.”

Oh, yeah, there’s a lot more sex

Thankfully, there’s more to Queen Charlotte than suffering and difficult circumstances. This is a work from the writer who made McSteamy a universally understood part of the lexicon, right? Rhimes says that the lovemaking scenes in Queen Charlotte follow the precedent set in Bridgerton, which turned standard portrayals of coitus on their head by showing sex from the female point of view. “For Charlotte,” she explains, “a lot of it was a depiction of all the arguments that a couple would have, but instead they were having sex. That was kind of part of it. But I also felt like she’s young, she’s naive, and he’s the king. … I wanted to find a way around those power dynamics.”

india amarteifio as young queen charlotte and corey mylchreest as young king george in queen charlotte a bridgerton story
“I felt like she’s young, she’s naive, and he’s the king. … I wanted to find a way around those power dynamics.”

Rhimes says she didn’t write specific details of what happens in a scene — leaving that to the director, Tom Verica, and the intimacy coordinator. “I just write emotionally what I want the scene to convey. I’m kind of a nerd and a prude,” she jokes, “so I get a little blushy.”

Hot and heavy as they are, the sex scenes in Queen Charlotte do more than just titillate: They’re connected to the characters’ journey and emotional arc. Charlotte, for example, goes from an ingénue so clueless about sex, she literally has to have a picture drawn for her to understand it, by a woman who uses lovemaking to bond with her husband. Young Agatha, when we first meet her, only knows sex as a chore to perform for her husband; when we see her as an adult, she comes to understand that she’s entitled to enjoy sex for her own pleasure. (More on that in a minute.) For young Brimsley (Sam Clemmett), in his hidden relationship with Reynolds (Freddie Dennis), sex is a way for each to feel validated and human since they are doubly suppressed in life: their only functions are to serve Queen Charlotte and King George, respectively, and their sexual orientation is a secret, since, at the time, being gay was considered a sin punishable by death.

More on that Brimsley reveal!

Though Rhimes considered the romance between young Brimsley and Reynolds, as she did the others, very carefully, their queerness is actually another element that wasn’t planned from the outset. “I’m working backwards and imagining his life,” Rhimes says of how she arrived at Brimsley’s romantic life, especially given that, in Bridgerton, our knowledge of older Brimsley was limited to him simply being the queen’s right-hand man.

queen charlotte a bridgerton story l to r freddie dennis as reynolds, sam clemmett as young brimsley, michelle fairley as princess augusta in episode 106 of queen charlotte a bridgerton story cr nick wallnetflix © 2023
Freddie Dennis (left) as Reynolds and Sam Clemmett (right) as young Brimsley.

“I really felt like, ‘Where would he find room to have love?’ He’s in service, so it really would be with another person who’s in service. And I loved that dynamic. And it was something that I hadn’t actually planned when I started writing it. I loved their love affair. I thought the idea that service takes over was really interesting. When you see Brimsley alone, that’s what that’s supposed to convey. A lot of people ask me, ‘Is Reynolds dead?’ Reynolds is not dead. There’s a lot more I could write about that. It was sexy, and it was fun, and it felt very romantic to watch them also have a very real complicated love.”

As for that other juicy romance …

If there’s one thing Shonda Rhimes knows how to do, it’s making jaws plummet all the way to the basement with a discovery we never could’ve seen coming. Queen Charlotte is no exception: We learn in episode five (“Gardens in Bloom”) that young Lady Danbury had a dalliance with young Violet Bridgerton’s (Connie Jenkins-Greig) father, Lord Ledger (Keir Charles), back in the day. That tidbit is interesting on its own, but rises to the level of genius when adult Violet pieces it together after discovering that adult Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) owns one of the birthday crowns her dad made. The subsequent silence is so loud. “I loved that story,” Rhimes says. “What’s so wonderful was we have this moment that Violet is seen in childhood, that she doesn’t quite understand. I love the moment when it comes full circle for her. That silence moment was the most badass acting I’ve ever seen. It was so amazing. Now there’s this tension between the two of them.”

How those final tearjerker sentences of the series came to be

After the introduction to Charlotte and George, allowing us inside their minds, seeing all they’re up against, and making us root for them, the last few minutes tie everything together in a beautiful satin bow. It’s a flash-forward to the Bridgerton present, with adult Charlotte coming to give George (James Fleet) the good news that their son Edward is married and expecting a baby. Charlotte arrives in high spirits; her main objective has been met. Yet when she finds George, he’s incoherent, his condition having worsened. What happens next is both tender and perfectly aligned with Rhimes’ stated belief that love is a commitment and a choice: Charlotte swallows her agony and her pride, taking to the floor to speak to George from across the bed. She calls him “Farmer George” (a flashback to their early days when he was avoiding her from shame); we see glimpses of them as young lovers; George thanks her. And then, the feelings bomb drops: “You did not go over the wall,” he says. “No, George, I did not go over the wall.” Ugly tears!

queen charlotte a bridgerton story l to r golda rosheuvel as queen charlotte, james fleet as king george in episode 104 of queen charlotte a bridgerton story cr liam danielnetflix © 2023
Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte and James Fleet as older King George.

“I think I knew that line from the beginning,” Rhimes says. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring it full circle. And I hadn’t thought about the end-of-the-bed thing. But when we got there, it was perfect.”

Initially, she says, she’d written a scene that ended up going in episode four (“Holding the King”), but “it felt not right. I felt like we needed to save the beauty of that moment. Because they are so beautiful together. Until the end.”

So … what’s next?

Several moments and stories from Queen Charlotte will no doubt impact the continuity of the Bridgerverse — Violet’s daddy could’ve been Lady Danbury’s baby daddy, for starters — but another big pressing question fans will likely have after finishing the episodes is what the next spin-off might be. Queen Charlotte is a limited series and therefore won’t have a season two, but given its success and glowing reviews, it’s only right to wonder, are we getting another series following a character from the Bridgerverse? Rhimes was characteristically enigmatic when it came to revealing future plans.

“You know what’s funny is, when I started doing press for this, my answer was ‘Absolutely not.’ But every reporter I talked to was like, ‘Come on!’ I don’t know,” she says. “I mean, you guys are changing my mind a little bit. I’m thinking about it. I hadn’t entertained it before, but now I am.”

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is now streaming on Netflix.

Malcolm Venable is a Senior Staff Writer at Shondaland. Follow him on Twitter @malcolmvenable.

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