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Queen Charlotte's Queer Romance Amounts to Little More Than Fan Service

Bridgerton fans deserve more than the prequel's thinly-drawn gay relationship.
  • Freddie Dennis and Sam Clemmett in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix)
    Freddie Dennis and Sam Clemmett in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

    [Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.]

    Over the past two seasons, Bridgerton has presented a diverse, inclusive vision of Regency England, but one criticism has plagued the Shonda Rhimes-produced drama: For all this progress, the show has yet to introduce a meaningful queer romance. While Bridgerton has flirted with queer love — Season 1 suggested Benedict Bridgerton (Luke Thompson) may be interested in exploring his sexuality — it has always stopped short of depicting it outright, preferring to leave LGBTQ+ characters on the margins or, in Benedict's case, to walk back their curiosity by plunging them into new heterosexual relationships.

    Rhimes has clearly internalized viewers' pleas, as Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story finally brings a gay relationship to the forefront. The prequel introduces viewers to a younger version of Brimsley (Sam Clemmett), the queen's man, who's revealed to be hooking up with his counterpart on the other side of the Crown, Reynolds (Freddie Dennis). Given the realities of life in 1760s Britain — which, in the world of the show, is only integrated upon the marriage of Queen Charlotte (India Amarteifio) to King George (Corey Mylchreest) — the two carry out their tryst in secret, stealing 15 minutes every few episodes to tear off each other's cloaks.

    But while these scenes are just as steamy as the show's heterosexual moments of passion, Brimsley and Reynolds' relationship ultimately proves to be little more than fan service. Rhimes, who serves as creator and showrunner, fails to develop their romance beyond the physical: Over the course of six episodes, Queen Charlotte offers no indication as to why these characters are together apart from their sexual identities. Their journey is exclusively filtered through that of the king and queen, whose love story is depicted so richly that it throws Brimsley and Reynolds' lack of depth into sharp relief.

    Queen Charlotte is conscientious enough to ensure Brimsley and Reynolds' queerness doesn't define them; instead, they're driven by their overwhelming devotion to the Crown, which, apart from their sexuality, is the only thing we learn about them throughout six episodes. This is intentional: As the king and queen's men, the Crown, not their own desires, will always be their priority. Adult Brimsley (Hugh Sachs) says as much in a flash-forward scene when he tells the queen (Golda Rosheuvel), "Who could I ever find who would be free to spend a lifetime with me? I am here. Everyone here cares for the king."

    Even when Brimsley and Reynolds are at their most intimate, they're unable to disentangle themselves from their work. When we first see them have sex in Episode 2 ("Honeymoon Bliss"), they spend the entire time talking about Charlotte and George's failure to consummate their marriage. "Is there a problem? A deformity – is there something wrong with his bits?" a shirtless Brimsley asks in between kisses. As Reynolds unties Brimsley's pants in response, he confirms that the king has "large, healthy bits" and no type beyond "female." The Bridgerton franchise's first meaningful gay sex scene thus becomes not about the queer, working-class men involved, but the straight monarchs whom they serve.

    Outside the bedroom, their relationship matures in a similar fashion. When Brimsley and Reynolds interact, it's to strategize about how to navigate Charlotte and George's falling-out, the king's suspicious condition and brutal treatments, or the queen's desire to leave Britain entirely. As a result, their romance becomes largely inaccessible. Are Brimsley and Reynolds really right for one another, or is theirs just a relationship of convenience? Their most vulnerable moment of the season, during which they sit in the bathtub and discuss the possibility of spending "a lifetime" together, suggests they have a "great love," but when they're so often relegated to the fringes — even here, their future bliss is dependent upon the monarchs' reconciliation — it's difficult to accept this sentiment at face value.

    Perhaps if viewers saw how (and why) Brimsley and Reynolds first got together, their relationship would feel more complete. This kind of slow burn is Bridgerton's specialty, as evidenced by Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset's (Regé-Jean Page) dazzling chemistry and Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma's (Simone Ashley) enemies-to-lovers arc. Not only does the prequel follow this pattern with George and Charlotte, but it extends the same courtesy to supporting characters like the young Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas), who engages in a brief but torrid affair with Lord Ledger (Keir Charles), Violet Bridgerton's (Ruth Gemmell) father, that reveals new sides of the no-nonsense leader of the Ton.

    Brimsley and Reynolds are denied such an opportunity. When we first meet the king and queen's men, they're already together, though it's not clear how long it's been or who made the first move. Answering these questions would seem to be a priority for a franchise so preoccupied with matters of courtship, but Queen Charlotte skips over their backstory entirely, instead preferring to explore the evolution of "Breynolds" vis-à-vis their employers' relationship. In doing so, the show unintentionally prevents the audience from getting to know these characters as more than just loyal attendants, reducing the impact of a storyline fans have been waiting years to see portrayed with the care and respect it deserves.

    Brimsley and Reynolds' relationship may be a step forward, but the Bridgerton universe still has plenty to work on when it comes to queer representation. With Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) set to take center stage in Season 3 — a deviation from the novels, the third of which focuses on Benedict — it seems more and more likely that any progress on this front will be coming from outside the Bridgerton household. Still, not all hope is lost: According to Netflix, Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), the sibling least interested in maintaining the status quo, will find "a new friend in a very unlikely place" next season. Should Eloise find herself in a queer relationship of her own, we can only hope new showrunner Jess Brownell takes a lesson from Queen Charlotte and crafts a love story as touching and intense as the heterosexual romances for which the show has become known.

    Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is now streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Bridgerton, Corey Mylchreest, Freddie Dennis, India Amarteifio, Sam Clemmett, Shonda Rhimes