Queen Charlotte is touted as a Bridgerton story, so I thought I knew what to expect. Yet I found it not to be the same type of story at all. Sure, there are familiar characters. There are balls and gowns and steamy sex scenes here and there. Yet this is actually a serious story, not the guilty pleasure McDreamy-ness of the Duke of Hastings.

I recently finished watching the show, and it has stuck with me. I will do my best to tell you why without revealing too much, but I cannot guarantee no spoilers, so you may want to pause here, watch the six episodes, then round back around to this blog.

One of the clearest reasons the story stayed with me is the depiction of mental illness and how disruptive and heartbreaking it can be. The shame and secrecy that often come along with these types of struggles, whether it’s depression or anxiety or autism or schizophrenia (which is how I would diagnose this representation of King George, which is in all likelihood not historically accurate).

I help people with their mental and emotional challenges every day. I also provide support to family and friends of those struggling with these challenges. It is draining and sad and discouraging and confusing and frustrating and a million other things. Functioning can be so unpredictable that people have trouble finding the ground beneath their feet. It is lonely and isolating and scary. Treatment options can be confusing and expensive and not always accessible. All of which is portrayed in this story taking place in Shonda Rhimes’ version of 1770s England (which is not actual 1770s England but is a reflection on the way mental illness has been handled throughout history and into today). I write about some similar themes in my book, All I Know.

The other reason this resonated with me is the way it addresses choice. Choice is a topic I love to contemplate and write about, and I loved how it was handled here. Queen Charlotte feels like she has no choice for much of the story. She is a pawn in an arranged marriage. She isn’t allowed to leave the grounds of her home. She is basically a prisoner for much of the story. A well-dressed, well-fed, well-attended prisoner, but still.

She feels trapped and helpless and powerless for long stretches, and her despair builds. She tries to find solutions over and over and is continually thwarted in her attempts. Yet by the end of the story, she finds empowerment from her desperation. With little left to lose, she makes bold choices and takes control for herself. The side character of Lady Danbury shows this same experience through a different series of events. Limited choices and desperation lead to some creative thinking and remarkable paths out of the darkness.

So ultimately Queen Charlotte is about hope, which many of my favorite stories are. I was pleasantly surprised it turned out to be more than a guilty pleasure.