In the first episode of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, a young Queen Charlotte, then Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, is presented to Princess Augusta for the first time. Augusta (a steely Michelle Fairley, of Game of Thrones fame) circles Charlotte (newcomer India Amarteifio, perfectly cast) menacingly as she inspects her future daughter-in-law. After asking about her teeth and hands, and commenting on her child-bearing hips, Augusta licks her fingers and reaches out to wipe Charlotte’s skin. Charlotte, offended, stares at her, but says nothing.
This is far from the “race-conscious” approach Bridgerton took to its storytelling, where the racial identities of characters like Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) or Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) are not a critical part of their storylines. After reading that scene in her script, star India Amarteifio, a 21-year-old Black British actress, wanted to tell creator Shonda Rhimes, “Thank you for bringing this to light.”
Queen Charlotte, out today, is a prequel meant to give context to the world of Bridgerton; it’s intended both for viewers who are existing fans of the original series, and those who haven’t watched Bridgerton. The show, Amarteifio tells Town & Country, “explores so many different journeys that you just don’t expect at all; things that you’re like, ‘Is she about to say that? Oh my gosh, she is!’ Or, ‘Are they about to reference her? Oh my gosh, they are.’ We’re not shy.” Hot-button issues, like ones related to race, Amarteifio continues, are “spoken about in direct [terms]; it will be written out for you.’ It’s very brazen and quite risky, but that’s exciting—and how cool to be a part of.”
Augusta wiping Charlotte’s skin is just one of many scenes where Charlotte’s Blackness factors into the plot; the show seeks to explain how the world of Bridgerton came to be, thanks to the marriage of Charlotte and George. In doing so, Queen Charlotte feels more responsive, in a way, to modern-day issues of race and racism. Amarteifio is glad they’re showing these types of racial microgressions, plain and simple, in Queen Charlotte. “How society treats Black women is still not where we need to be at, and the fact that Shonda’s making it such a pivotal theme and idea in the show is going to speak to a lot of people who that still happens to,” says Amarteifio. “It’s horrible to watch and it’s uncomfortable. But again, we don’t make change unless we create conversation. This is going to create conversation—one way or another.”
Filming that particular scene, Amarteifio tells T&C, was a “weird” experience, but Charlotte’s emotions were easy to access. “It wasn’t difficult to feel angry, or to feel any kind of disgust toward her, because her actions are completely immoral and dehumanizing,” she says of Princess Augusta’s behavior. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for Michelle to do that. She’s just the most loveliest, most accepting human being ever.”
Intentionally or not, Augusta’s reaction to Charlotte’s skin mirrors conversations taking place within the modern-day British royal family. In a bombshell interview with Oprah in 2021, Meghan Markle revealed there were “concerns and conversations” over how dark Archie’s skin may be when he was born. “There was concern about his skin color,” Prince Harry said earlier this year, though he added he didn’t think his family was racist. Within just the last few weeks, reports surfaced of letters exchanged between King Charles and Meghan about unconscious bias.
Amarteifio says she wasn’t thinking too much about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as she worked on Queen Charlotte, but calls it “crazy” that “we’re able to draw similar parallels to things that are happening in real life to a show that’s set 400 years ago.” She adds, “The fact that we’re still having the same conversations just shows how far we’ve got to go.”
Although Meghan and Harry were not top of mind for her, the actress admits she did binge-watch Netflix’s The Crown “to get an understanding of what it’s like—having all that attention and the fame and people around you all the time.” She continues, “It was really important for me to put it into context of the modern day English monarchy, but it feels weird. I never really looked at the monarchy as anything more than tourist attraction for people outside Britain to come and see them. But I understand now how important they are to society and to England.”
Despite not thinking about the modern-day royals, Amarteifio instinctively understood that as a Black woman, playing a character like Queen Charlotte in the Bridgerton-verse is a big deal.
“It’s not just another period drama; it’s so much more,” Amarteifio says. “It means so much to so many: book fans, people of all ethnicities, people in the LGBTQI community. It is for everyone.” Projects like Bridgerton, that push the boundaries of what period pieces look like, she adds, are “something every actor should want to be part of.” It was a no-brainer for her taking on the younger version of Golda Rosheuvel’s Queen Charlotte.
Creator Shonda Rhimes says Amarteifio was “really game” to expand the character of Charlotte beyond what viewers have already seen in seasons one and two of Bridgerton. “India has such an amazing quality about herself,” Rhimes tells T&C. “She has a sweetness, but there’s an undertone of steel in there and I really love that about her as a person, too. She very much knows who she is and very much seems to be comfortable inhabiting these characters, which is wonderful.”
Queen Charlotte is her first leading role, but only the latest in an already impressive performing arts career. Her background is in dance; she attend the Richmond Academy of Dance, and then the Sylvia Young Theatre School, making her debut on the West End in 2011 as a young Nala in The Lion King, and subsequently appearing in Matilda the Musical and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On stage, she found a “love of storytelling,” and from there, she made the transition to television, with roles in Doctor Who, The Evermoor Chronicles, and Sex Education.
Though she is young, she deftly anchored the production on screen and off. Early reviews of Amarteifio as Charlotte are glowing; Entertainment Weekly says she is “an absolute star” who “balances the confidence and hauteur of a headstrong young woman with the quiet yearning of a child who has been forced to grow up too fast,” and Vulture notes she is “an especially captivating young queen.” Her costars, too, are effusive in their praise of her. “India, while she is young, is the wisest of all of us. It is actually insane,” Arsema Thomas tells Town & Country. “I am inspired by her constantly and she is able to be a massively strong foundation for us and snap us out of it.” Corey Mylchreest, who plays the George to her Charlotte, calls Amarteifio a “wonderful friend and a fierce actress.” He tells T&C, “Watching her work makes me want to work harder. It was a joy to just play around with her in scenes.”
The pressure of taking on such a beloved character didn’t impact her while filming, but she’s feeling the attention now. For a self-described private, introverted person, starring on a Netflix show is a big leap to super-stardom. “If I was filming and I knew that all of this was to come, I would’ve been completely overwhelmed,” she admits, quick to clarify: “It’s great, it’s not negative at all; I’m still getting used to it.”
Rhimes made it clear to Amarteifio that Queen Charlotte is not a historically accurate show, but the actress still did some research. She read Janice Hadlow’s biography of Queen Charlotte and King George III, A Royal Experiment, and, like her character, she spent time at Kew Gardens, one of her “favorite places” in London. But her version of Charlotte is a new invention, and fully her own.
Underneath a veneer of rebellion and anger, the Charlotte seen in this series is a hopeless romantic who believes in true love. “Part of the reason why she’s so angry is because she wants true love. She doesn’t want her love to be a trade or anything to do with politics or power or money. She wants real love, the understanding of two people just bonding and finding each other,” she says.
“She wasn’t given a choice,” Amarteifio adds. “Like anyone, she just wanted to break free from these chains and to live a life that she wants—rather than what she’s being told that she wants. From there, it was really easy to find that anger, because I was angry for her. So maybe it was a bit of India as well, being like, ‘Yeah, we deserve more.'”
All episodes of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story are now streaming on Netflix.
Photos by Philip Friedman
Emily Burack (she/her) is the news writer for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma, a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram.