Queenie review: A stylish show about starting over in South London

Hulu cooks up a vibrant adaptation of the bestselling book

Queenie review: A stylish show about starting over in South London
Queenie Photo: Latoya Okuneye/Lionsgate

Calling something “the Black Bridget Jones’s Diary” works fine in an elevator-pitch sort of way. It gives you something of an access point, albeit one that centers the white gaze. Queenie, both the show premiering June 7 on Hulu and the Candice Carty-Williams novel of the same name, has been described that way. Both heroines are messy, sure. Both work in media and hold aspirations to take on more responsibility in their respective roles. And thematically, the show is not dissimilar to Bridget Jones’s Diary, with its overall “embrace mess” theme echoing that Colin Firth line “I like you very much—just as you are.” But labeling our lead Queenie Jenkins the Black version of Bridget is a bit reductive. It flattens her, and she doesn’t deserve that. She’s been through enough, as you’ll see. And it’s that very complexity of Queenie’s experience that makes this drama a compelling watch.

Queenie (Dionne Brown) is a 25-year-old from Brixton in South London. Estranged from her mother, but deeply bonded with her Jamaican immigrant grandparents and aunt who raised her, she resides at the intersection of cultural, generational, and racial influences that she sometimes finds difficult to navigate. However, at the start of this story, her focus seems to be fixed on her job as a social-media assistant at The Daily Reader and her relationship with her boyfriend Tom, who is white. A miscarriage the day of Tom’s mother’s birthday dinner quickly throws Queenie’s life into chaos. By the time her beau’s grandmother is picking apart the features she would and would not want her grandson’s child to inherit from each parent (she says this not knowing about her current medical reality), Queenie’s filter is gone. And with no one, not even her boyfriend, intervening on her behalf, she stands up to the old woman. Following this issue, Tom dismisses her as being “too much,” and initiates a break, siding with his family over his longtime partner like a dweeb.

The rest of the series examines Queenie’s attempts to heal after this heartbreak, and it’s not all super healthy. She has lots of casual sex (sometimes with married dudes), smokes a bit, and gets drunk from time to time (even at work). The friends she consults don’t always give great advice, and sometimes they’re pretty judgmental. And as all of this is going on, we continue to see Queenie struggle through racist abuse at the hands of her boss, co-workers, and even some rando white girl in the club who fully cups her ass without warning. (As we go on this journey with Queenie, we can see why the term “microaggression” has fallen out of favor: it doesn’t encompass the devastating effect these accumulated racial aggressions inflict.) But still, our girl keeps trying to address her issues using the coping skills available to her, and witnessing her resilience is validating. It’s the holistic embrace of this character that allows the show achieves some level of depth, even as other characters are given more shallow treatments.

And that’s really the series’ main flaw: that while Queenie is well-rounded and richly developed, some characters fall flat. One of her romantic interests in particular seems to exist purely to introduce a juicy twist midway through this season (and to be a dick). And maybe it’s okay to give some characters less attention to allow Queenie to reign supreme, but in a show that seems ambitious in many regards, instances of flimsy character development can sometimes dull its shine.

Even as a few characters feel underdeveloped and some of the drama here feels a little forced, there is a lot to enjoy about Queenie. And many of the actors seem to bring their full hearts into their roles. Brown nicely embodies the titular character in her darkest moments as well as more lighthearted ones, able to act subtly one moment and then command the screen in the next. Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air) is another standout, bringing a grandfatherly warmth to Grandad Wilfred as well as emotional gravity. The interplay between Queenie’s family members in particular is delightful to watch. We can feel the love there.

Queenie | Official Trailer | Hulu

The music and visuals do a lot to enliven the show as well, especially the bright murals splashed across city walls (including one of Chadwick Boseman in profile that reads “Black Panther Lives”) and well-curated interiors. Her friend Kyazike’s apartment stuns with its lilac walls, orange and red orchids lining the windowsill, and bold curtains boasting thick brown and yellow brushstrokes. The post-production details that cue us into Queenie’s inner turmoil add meaningful touches, too. Visuals blur as she panics, the throb of a heartbeat thrumming beneath phantom record player static (when things get really tense, we hear the record scratch). We learn later that the household record player looms large in Queenie’s family mythology (her own name was plucked straight from a Chuck Berry record that her mother grew up listening to) and that makes this auditory cue feel authentically woven into the show’s lexicon and not just like some neat stylistic flourish.

All in all, Queenie has plenty to offer. Its foregrounding of our protagonist’s mental health and positioning of her within her communities and the broader systems that have shaped her provides many interesting angles to explore and adds depth to the story. We’ve come a long way from the rom-com days of perfect pretty ladies falling down until someday finding a savior boyfriend. Bad things happen to Queenie, but her dignity remains intact and she is always taken seriously, even when her negative cognition (“no one wants me”) gets the better of her. In fact, we see her being toasted by others and throwing herself her own damn party. And when the show really clicks, it feels like a celebration worth joining.

Queenie premieres June 7 on Hulu

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