‘Bridgerton’ offers groundbreaking portrait of Blacks in aristocracy

Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix Golda Rosheuvel, center, as Queen Charlotte in the Netflix drama “Bridgerton.”

Born in Guyana and raised in Britain since the age of five, actress Golda Rosheuvel had always planned on being an athlete. She was passionate about sports throughout her childhood. “I was a proper athlete,” she told the MSR. “I played hockey. I won medals; I broke records. I would have been heading to the Olympics to do the decathlon.”

A serious injury as a teen forced Rosheuvel to pivot. The classically trained actress plays the tirelessly social, fiercely fashionable real-life-based Queen Charlotte (who was reportedly of African descent) in Shonda Rhimes’ first Netflix series, “Bridgerton.”

 Adapted from the novels by Julia Quinn, “Bridgerton” as conceived by Rhimes is, well, quite Rhimesian. It features a multiracial cast marked by scandal, romance, angst, and power-plays.

One surprising element is aGossip Girl”-type faceless character, dishing all the dirty laundry behind high society’s near unbreachable walls in Regency-era England, and keeping the well-manicured aristocracy looking over its powdered and perfumed shoulder.

Departing from traditional on-screen depictions, African-descended characters appear in “Bridgerton” as part of the ruling class.Bridgerton” also stars Rege Jean Page, (“Roots” -2016), as Duke of Hastings, Adjoa Andoh (“Dr. Who”) as Lady Danbury, the Duke’s doting and politically savvy Aunt, and Ruby Barker (“Wolfblood”) as troubled Lady Marina Thompson.

Her athletic dreams dashed at 16, Rosheuvel, with a little help of her preacher father, gave acting, a secondary passion of hers, all her attention.

First, she had to conquer a two-day audition to get into drama school. “I had to do Shakespeare and a monologue, and I had to sing. My father wrote songs in his spare time and I sang one of his songs.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Rosheuvel’s character sits at the epicenter of an iron hand in velvet glove social scene where even the most miniscule faux pas can irreparably ruin a reputation and thus, prospects for a good marriage. The Queen herself is the ultimate arbiter of propriety, with the power, as they say, to make or break whom she pleases.

“I absolutely feel this is a reflection of what’s happening in the world right now,” Rosheuvel said about portraying a powerful woman of color at a time when someone like Rhimes, a woman of African descent, is so influential, and an African-descended mixed-race woman is the vice president of the United States. “I would like it to become the norm. It feels like it’s moving in that direction.”

Though there were several people of African descent who moved in rarified social circles in Europe at the time portrayed in “Bridgerton” (and earlier), those stories are not often told. That they are being told now, Rosheuvel suggested, is a testament to the power of diversity behind the camera. “We are finally being given the space to breathe creatively with our storytelling,” Rosheuvel said. “We’re beginning to breathe in those rich diverse stories that people haven’t seen or been told before.”

The drama takes place in an England that had turned a corner in race relations but achieved heights of empire at the expense of people of color. Rosheuvel discussed approaching her character as a woman of color who was, in a sense, complicit in that exploitation. “I thought about that when I was preparing for the role,” she said. “But you have to understand the time she was living in. It’s not right in any era but for me who works from a place of non-judgment, I have to say this is the world she had to navigate. She was living in a very particular time and was also dealing with extraordinary things in her personal life.”

Rosheuvel’s Queen Charlotte lived a double life as the wife of (Mad) King George. He stood at the apex of empire but lived with extreme mental illness. In one of the most poignant scenes in the series, Queen Charlotte’s muffled agony is revealed.

“Because we were putting her in that fantasy world, she had to really live in that world,” begins Rosheuvel. “There are the lavish, beautiful balls and behind-the-scenes, she’s dealing with this difficult situation. The man she’s deeply in love with was struggling with what we now know as bipolar disorder.

“Well, historians think he had porphyria. The episodes he went through were terrifying for Charlotte. To me though, the deep and desperate love she had is the thing that helps her get through it.”

“Bridgerton” is in its first season on Netflix. For more info, go to www.netflix.com/title/80232398.