Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UNBINGED is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too.
Fiction inspired by facts, or facts distorted by fiction? History-inspired tales of great queens are more imagination than authenticity, but if the story is good, why let a few white lies stand in the way? For this edition of UnBinged, we take a look at streaming’s current royal treatment in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Queen Cleopatra and The Great Season 3-– all popular dramas that misconstrue the history of great female leaders for the sake of entertainment. Which deserves a crown and which needs to go down? Read on.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (Netflix)
Before the bodice-ripping, tawdry tales of Bridgerton continue for a third season, Netflix has unleashed a spin-off inspired by their very empress. But will the miniseries offer the same brazen, bawdy good time? Yes and no. Instead of a hot n’ heavy regency romance for a modern age, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story offers a royal courtship for the ages, filled with enchantment and heartbreak.
Before she was the gossip-loving, whip-smart, barb-tongued monarch who ruled her royal court with an iron will, Queen Charlotte (India Amarteifio) was an impulsive young woman in an arranged marriage with King George III (Corey Mylchreest) who would rather impale herself on her whale-bone corset than take a husband. But soon, the two find they are a good match. Then court politics and bad genetics set things asunder.
As the story of young Charlotte plays out, the elder Queen (Golda Rosheuvel) must contend with her own children in the current Bridgerton timeline as the royal lineage faces peril. Leads Amarteifio and Mylchreest have a chemistry that’s palpable from the minute their meet-cute is set into motion. Amarteifio does an admirable job capturing the character Rosheuvel made so enticing in the original series. She embodies the monarch with her quick jabs and quick to anger temperament.
Queen Charlotte is a story of love, feminism, and race. And because it is a Bridgerton series, sex and sensuality, too. It’s not just an origin story for the Queen, but for the world of Bridgerton itself, which, during this prequel is still gripped in class and race struggles. Charlotte’s marriage and her court, aka “The Great Experiment,” as well as the challenges she faces due to her husband’s frail mental state, place her future in a delicate balance, creating a more compelling story.
It’s fair to say that this show is far more rich in concept and quality than we’ve seen from the franchise so far. The events in the series wont be found in any text, but the issues it confronts are more than real. Queen Charlotte is not just entertaining, but meaningful, and in the end, inspiring.
Queen Cleopatra (Netflix)
Even before the series hit Netflix, Queen Cleopatra was rife with controversy. In the first episode, the docuseries states that Cleopatra’s lineage is a bit of a mystery even to those who have spent their lives studying Egyptian history and the Ptolemy clan, but the series takes a strong stance that the legendary queen was of a darker complexion, which is reflected in its casting. By portraying Cleopatra as Black, the series created conflict with Egyptian heads of state and scholars. Much of the strife during the debate was targeted at Jada-Pinkett Smith, who narrated and exec produced the effort. It was a mess, and sadly so is the show.
The docuseries presents a confusing disarray of facts and fiction via its own roster of scholars, historians, and talking heads. Each touts new narratives of the Egyptian queen’s life, while the major milestones of her rule are simulated for the audience. Academics sell their anecdotes, which are depicted with lavish sets, elborate costumes and hammy drama.
Adele James tries her darndest to sell this flawed story by playing Cleo as regal as possible, but it still comes off a bit of a trainwreck. The series protrays the Ptolemaic empress as a perfect celestial being too good for this earth and this over-the-top hard sell quickly devolves into pure bedlam as random facts are spouted by commentators intermixed between campy scenes of fantasy. The end result is a Frankenseries: part Lifetime drama, part documentary, all gibberish.
Any point the creators of Queen Cleopatra were attempting to make was lost in the approach. The series distorts history by inserting unnecessary drama to make a point about race. Truth be told, with the talents of James at their disposal, creators could have easily removed the historians and just made a fictional account of Cleopatra that would have satisfied this agenda and told a better story. See Queen Charlotte above.
The Great-Season 3 (Hulu)
She came. She saw. She conquered. And in season three of The Great, Catherine the Great continues to live up to her name, both in deeds and story. When we last saw Cat (the superb Elle Fanning), she attempted to stab her bratty contemptuous husband Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), but only succeeded in stabbing his doppelgänger. Many, many times. Then she realized that she did indeed love the son of a bitch and decided for the good of her marriage, child, and Russia, she’d would give it another go.
This somewhat-historical comedy drama created by The Favorite scribe Tony McNamara explores Catherine as she struggles under the weight of ruling an entire nation on her own, while dealing with her unbalanced husband and a tedious court. Catherine herself grows a bit more unhinged with each passing day as her own situation becomes more unstable and ludicrous.
As always, the writing is sharp, quick-witted and in no way reflects how people speak in real life– think a History Channel series but with a Mrs. Maisel dialect. It doesn’t do much for the historical accuracy, but it makes The Great wickedly entertaining,
Both Fanning and Hoult continue to be standouts in the series. And this season, Hoult truly puts forth a notable turn as he pulls double duty playing two rat bastards –the deliciously vulgar Peter and his malicious double, Pugachev.
The third season of The Great is filled with espionage and treason, political coups and assassinations, but Hoult and Fanning’s relationship retains the heart of the series. In previous seasons, the duo developed an amusing rapport onscreen conveying a wildly dysfunctional couple with an innate need to sabotage each other. But this season, there is actual love, so it’s even more interesting to watch their interaction. They respect each other but when they fight, it’s with venom.
The third season delivers emotional turmoil more devastating than seen in previous years, allowing the stars to stretch themselves further and deliver fantastic performances. Though The Great has always been outlandish and entertaining, Fanning and Hoult take their reigns glorious –and great– new heights.
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