King Charles III’s coronation stole the show last weekend while the world watched in awe of royal princesses in capes and crowns. I, however, was busy and captivated by another set of royals in an adjacent Bridgerton universe.
Adapted from a popular book series, the streaming show became an overnight success, known for its steamy Victorian romp and romance, all set to classical renditions of modern pop songs like “thank u, next.” In its latest season, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, viewers are treated to the love story between Charlotte and King George III, but the show pivots to tackle a subject that eclipses the onscreen courtship: mental health.
While the Bridgerton prequel is merely a fairytale retelling, the show’s depiction of the real King George’s mental illness is actually factual. Throughout his reign from 1760 to 1820, the monarch was known for recurring manic episodes that earned him the title “mad king.” In Queen Charlotte, we see a tortured king pursuing a cure to this mysterious madness – offering himself up as a guinea pig for “treatments” and isolating himself from the world out of shame.
Drama and romance are Bridgerton’s bread-and-butter, but Queen Charlotte is careful not to glamorize the messiness of mental illness (albeit the lavish costumes and 50-bedroom mansions). King George might be afflicted, but every relationship in his life is affected by his illness.
In one of the most moving scenes, Queen Charlotte rolls under the bed to join George who “hides from the heavens” when in a state of hysteria. She delivers a masterclass on empathy and reminds viewers how to practice acceptance for those who feel their mental illness has become their identity.
“I am so sorry I did not give you a choice,” George says, apologizing profusely. “That I did not tell you the truth of who I was before we wed.”
“You did tell me the truth,” Charlotte replies. “You said you were just George. That is who you are – half King, half farmer – but always just George. That is all you need to be.”
Of course, Queen Charlotte is a fictionalized portrayal of historical events and takes some liberties with the facts. But its depiction of mental health is a powerful reminder of the importance of normalizing conversations about mental illness.
Betties, rest assured: this season of Bridgerton still promises a healthy dose of petticoat stripping + scandalous liaisons. However, Queen Charlotte goes beyond the soapy romance to deliver a very real + refreshing portrayal of mental illness and its impact on those who have it or love someone who does.
mental health resources: