Corey Mylchreest and India Amarteifio

Corey Mylchreest and India Amarteifio

Miranda Penn Turin
India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest

India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest

Miranda Penn Turin
Corey Mylchreest and India Amarteifio

Corey Mylchreest and India Amarteifio

Miranda Penn Turin

India Amarteifio

Miranda Penn Turin
Fill 1
Fill 1
May 03, 2023

Royal Watch: Queen Charlotte

In the Bridgerton prequel Queen Charlotte, two young British actors portray a couple bound by familial duty who find themselves, amidst one's rise to power and the other's mental decline, unexpectedly in love.

Benji Wilson

Before the 2020 release of Netflix's Regency smash Bridgerton, not many people knew about a certain Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. That all changed as Golda Rosheuvel played her for two seasons — Queen Charlotte, King George III's wife, was a flint-eyed force to be reckoned with. Part of her authority lay in her inscrutability. She was above it all, as a queen should be. With Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story — the six- episode origin tale and first Bridgerton spinoff premiering May 4 — Netflix is betting that viewers want to know more.

British actress India Amarteifio didn't know much about the young Charlotte when she was invited to audition in late 2021. "I was told it was to do with Bridgerton ... but something different. I didn't really know what I was doing."

For her second tryout she was given a scene that appears early in the first episode, and it told her all she needed to know. The young Charlotte is bouncing around in the back of a carriage with her feckless brother, Adolphus (Tunji Kasim, Nancy Drew). They are on their way to meet her future husband, King George III. Charlotte has never met the English monarch and has no desire to do so — but thanks to convention and her brother's machinations, marry him she must.

"She's like, 'No, I'm not doing that!'" Amarteifio says, speaking from her home in London. "She's defiant in a time when defiance wasn't cool. So from the very beginning my understanding of Charlotte was that she's not your typical girl from this era. She is not afraid to ask questions."

Amarteifio had two pressing questions of her own. "Firstly to Tom Verica [an executive producer and director on Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte], I said, 'Am I going to have to speak German? Because in real life I can't say anything more than schnitzel.'"

Verica said the script would give a nod to Charlotte's heritage, but no, no German would be required.

Her other query was the same question Charlotte asks in the show — who exactly is the man who's been chosen to be her husband? The answer was English actor Corey Mylchreest.

"Let's get the truth out," Mylchreest says. "I've never really worked before. I'd been out of drama school for a painfully fruitless two years, and this just came through my agent. I was invited to go and chemistry-test with India, and as I walked in, I saw this guy leaving who was the most handsome man I'd ever seen. I went in with the attitude that he was definitely going to get the job — maybe that was a good thing. It relaxed me."

Mylchreest won the part of the young King George III, a historical figure who differs from Queen Charlotte in that — thanks to films like The Madness of King George and more recently the musical Hamilton — he comes with a reputation, either as a madman or a tyrant or both. But Queen Charlotte is set thirty years before the King George of historical renown, and more important, this George is a Shonda Rhimes character. As such, this series is first and foremost a love story.

"When they meet, both of them are actually incredibly nervous, very scared about the future and what's going to happen," Mylchreest says. "Neither of them knows anything about being with someone else, let alone being married."

Charlotte is bound by familial duty, as prescribed by her brother in no uncertain terms, to do the right thing for her family. Marrying the King of England will see them (if not her) set for generations. George, meanwhile, is being pressed by his mother — a wonderfully waspish Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) — to deliver a male heir. Both are young. Both are being railroaded against their instincts and judgment.

"In that crucible," Mylchreest says, "where these two people are so desperately trying to get rid of this duty and just be normal people, they meet suddenly."

The key scene, which was released early as a teaser, shows Charlotte trying to climb up a wisteria vine and over a wall to escape her own wedding, not realizing that the man she's asking for help is her husband-to-be.

"The beauty of that scene," Mylchreest says, "is watching two people acknowledge the other and see themselves in the other."

Amarteifio began her acting career as a child, with roles in West End theater productions of The Lion King and Matilda the Musical. She later appeared in the BBC's Doctor Who and Line of Duty, Disney Channel's Evermoor and more recently Netflix's Sex Education. Mylchreest graduated from London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2020, which got him an agent but little else — until now. From the minute they arrived on set, neither of them had seen anything like the world of Bridgerton.

"Literally what you see on TV is what we film," Amarteifio says. "The work that they put in is so detailed and meticulous. My first day we were filming at Blenheim Palace [a UNESCO World Heritage site that doubles here for Buckingham Palace]. They had these massive fires everywhere, it was three o'clock in the morning, there were horses, there were carriages. I'm in the biggest dress, like a duvet, and I was experiencing everything for the first time. It just helped elevate the performance because it was like, 'Okay, I'm actually living in this.'"

While Amarteifio's Charlotte is meant to look awestruck, Mylchreest's King George is supposed to look to the manner born.

"I so wasn't," he says. "On my first day I was the worst mixture of ignorant and naïve. I knew how to act, kind of, but I didn't know how anything worked. We did a road scene where I was actually in a carriage that was being drawn by horses. We were so far away from everyone that we needed to have little walkie-talkies stashed away in the carriage so that we could hear [director] Tom's voice. That was terrifying."

Mylchreest spent most of the six-month shoot in stockings and heels, a challenge because it coincided with a 100-degree heatwave. "I had the stockings changed to tights, I'm proud to say, because the stockings go up to just above the knee and the trousers go down just below the knee, so anytime that you bend the socks come down and there's a gap and you can't stop to pull them back up."

He admits that it was worse for the women, though — principally his onscreen wife.

"The costumes were too big to fit in the trailers," Amarteifio recalls. "Week one, I was in my trailer with this dress on trying to eat my lunch, thinking, 'This cannot go on for the rest of the show.' So they put this little easy-up tent right by wherever we were filming where we could get dressed."

When it came to the formal dances, however — another Bridgerton staple that continues in Queen Charlotte — Amarteifio had the advantage.

"I'm a trained dancer," she says, "although trained in ballet and tap and modern, not any type of Georgian or Regency. Corey was a bit nervous going into it, because Bridgerton is known for having these beautiful ballroom scenes. But Corey will just throw himself into anything. He didn't want to hear it from me, but I was in dance classes with people that dance worse than him — people that have trained for ten years."

None of Queen Charlotte would exist, of course, without the success of the original Bridgerton. It was that show's take on period drama, with its color-conscious casting and wild palette, that opened the door for actors like Amarteifio to a genre from which they had previously been excluded.

"Shonda is at the forefront of that movement," she says of the creator-showrunner-executive producer. "People weren't writing shows for people of color to be in period costumes. I never watched period dramas; I didn't see myself represented. I'm half Black and white; my family looks like lots of different people. But for me as a mixed and Black person, I didn't see myself in any of these [historical] shows."

Queen Charlotte addresses the issue of race head-on; the arrival of a woman of color at the English court stirs things up right away.

"From the first episode," Amarteifio says, "it's like, 'Okay, we're going to talk about the elephant in the room.' And that's right — it creates conversation and gives context as to why Bridgerton is so diverse and beautiful."

George's mother, Fairley's Princess Augusta, sets up what she calls a "great experiment," wherein people of different ethnic backgrounds who would previously have been excluded are welcomed after the royal engagement. That brings to the Queen's court a young Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas as a young incarnation of Adjoa Andoh's Bridgerton character).

"Basically, her great experiment is to see what life would be like if we could live in a society where everyone was allowed to be a lord or a lady. Later on it will become clear to Charlotte how important this marriage is, not just for her country, but for everyone and for the people that she represents."

As for her husband, Mylchreest says, "Really simply, he doesn't give a flying ... . In fact, subconsciously, it's another connection between him and Charlotte. Because with his relationship with his family, George is effectively experiencing domestic oppression. And when we meet Charlotte, we see this woman is also dealing with oppression and trying to escape it. It's something that connects the two of them. Charlotte grows to understand his experience; he grows to understand hers."

George's experience is intimately connected with his mental-health struggles. We know that he will end up "mad," but in today's climate, we view this young man's decline with different overtones.

"George as a character definitely explores mental health," Mylchreest says. "What's important for the audience, for the story and to pay homage to the man that I researched is that we don't necessarily diagnose exactly what it was that he was dealing with. We know that it is affecting him. We know that he's struggling beyond belief, and it's a daily battle. He experiences all these things throughout the show, from beautiful highs to really shocking lows."

And so, as with Bridgerton, this new story set more than 250 years ago turns out to be a tale for our times, too.

"Shonda is just putting to paper what a lot of people are thinking and what's going on in the world," Amarteifio says. "The fact that we're still having conversations now that [should have] happened 250 years ago is ridiculous — and it just shows how much road we've still got to travel."

Executive producers for Shondaland's Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story are creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes, director Tom Verica and Betsy Beers.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #5, 2023, under the title, "Queen & Country."

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