The real King George was known as the 'mad king,' so how does the 'Bridgerton' series address his illness?
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story explores young Charlotte's rise to the throne and the early days of her marriage to King George III. But the Bridgerton prequel also spends considerable time delving into King George's side of the story, namely his illness and mental capacity.
Viewers of Bridgerton will recall in the first two seasons, Queen Charlotte's husband is often not seen onscreen as Charlotte and others mention him infrequently, usually in the context of the monarch being unfit to carry out his duties properly. In one specific scene in season 2, King George abruptly interrupts a conversation Queen Charlotte is having with Edwina Sharma, who, at the time, was expected to marry Anthony Bridgerton. In his outburst, George believed it to be his wedding day to Charlotte, softening the queen's hard edges just a bit. The severity of George's mental incapacities is conveyed for the first time.
It's in Queen Charlotte that George's gradually deteriorating health takes sharper focus as he goes through painful methods and nontraditional medicinal practices to free him of his "madness." Charlotte, after sharing news that she's with child, becomes aware of his unfit mind when she witnesses George in a manic state, stripping naked in the garden and seeking Venus. (If there ever was a common thread for George's descent into his manic states, they usually come when he's under high stress.)
Believing that the fix is to move in with George at Kew, all seems to go well for the couple -- for a brief period of time. The reality of the circumstances of their marriage and what George is able to do as king becomes clearer after he is unable to make an important Parliament address. In a heartbreaking confession under their bed, George apologizes to Charlotte for only being able to offer "half" of a healthy union. Later, after an older Charlotte runs to Kew to break the news to George that their grown son, Prince Edward, and his wife, Princess Victoria, are with child (most likely alluding to Queen Victoria), they return to the safe haven under their bed in a sweet, yet heartbreaking scene. "You did not go over the wall," George tells his wife, who tearfully smiles. "I did not go over the wall."
"It was a privilege to be able to play George in general," Queen Charlotte star Corey Mylchreest told ET's Nischelle Turner. "He is a man, affliction aside, who has a wide spectrum of behavior, which, as an actor is amazing. I think it was brilliant, not only to be able to explore his health and the pain that he individually experiences and the misery that he individually experiences, but also how that affected the main narrative, which is the love story and how their love finds ways -- like running water, evade and keep flowing."
George goes through quite a lot in Queen Charlotte as he and his mother, Princess Augusta, go to great lengths to try to rid him of his manic mind -- even employing an unconventional doctor with questionable tactics and unproven cures he calls the "terrific method," a nod to the terror-based procedures he has his patients, including George, endure. "[Those were] tough to film," Mylchreest shared of the many trials George goes through to fix himself, from having his head dunked in ice baths to being struck with a hot iron to having leeches put on his body to suck the "poison" out.
"Not the nicest head space to be in," he acknowledged. "But, you know, I did so much research on the guy and Shonda [Rhimes]' wonderful writing, I fell in love with that character and it felt like it was necessary to give a silent friend a voice. And if in that moment, it's his pain that is talking, then you commit to that 100 percent."
The actor noted that many of George's scenes where he's not in his right mind involved Charlotte in some way, and co-star India Amarteifio's reactions were key to his approach. "It's a joy to feed off the reaction," Mylchreest said. "Sometimes... you don't know what you're experiencing but you see someone else's shock and you go, 'I must be in a state.' But it was always a team sport."
"I think watching Corey work has been so instrumental in me being able to do even half the job that I was able to perform," Amarteifio credited. "It is such a collaboration and it's called Queen Charlotte but there are just so many different people that make this job. And it has been an absolute joy to watch Corey."
Though Queen Charlotte isn't a historical drama by any means, King George III's health is largely inspired by the real-life royal, whose cause for his "madness" has been the topic of debate for decades. According to the Royal Family's official website, medical historians theorized his unstable mental state may have been caused by porphyria, a rare genetic blood disorder. But in recent years, some believe King George could have had hypomania, which is often associated with bipolar disorder. (Queen Charlotte and Bridgerton, for the record, never actually say what their version of King George may be suffering from, just that he is not of right mind.)
Even through it all, Charlotte sticks by George's side until the very end. After all, they have 15 children together, though only 13 make it to adulthood. "They're just unconditional love. Through every obstacle that gets thrown their way in every circumstance that shouldn't really work, they're just compatibility [and] that force that drives them together keeps [them] alive," Amarteifio said.
"I think that's one of the most beautiful ways of storytelling is from a place of unconditional love because if you've got that, it will keep you going in the stormiest of skies and the most horrible instances. Most things can be thrown at you at all angles, but if you've got that one small section of love and light and the fact that it can keep you going is remarkable," she continued.
"And it's backed up by history as well. George and Charlotte, in the historical sense, actually really loved each other, which was really rare back in those days. That really drew me into them and I wanted to know more. Seeing Bridgerton and watching Bridgerton, I wanted to know more about who this guy was and their relationship. It really is a joy to play; it's really special."
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is streaming now on Netflix.