Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1 review – a fascinatingly high-stakes period drama

October 17, 2022
Nathan Sartain 0
K-Drama, Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
4

Summary

A fascinatingly high-stakes period drama elevated by strong writing and a skillful cast of stars.

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4

Summary

A fascinatingly high-stakes period drama elevated by strong writing and a skillful cast of stars.

This review of the Netflix K-Drama series Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1 does not contain major spoilers.

The historical drama genre is one not exactly unique in the world of K-dramas. Plenty of them are released each year, with some choosing to add a romantic angle to proceedings, others elements of fantasy, and a fair amount opting to favor palace drama. The latter formula is the one run with in Netflix‘s Under the Queen’s Umbrella, director Kim Hyeong-sik’s first domestic release since 2018’s About Time.

Fundamentally, the plot revolves around Queen Hwa-ryeong (played by Kim Hye-soo) who, through no fault of her own, finds herself battling a turbulent life. One of her sons, the Crown Prince, is ill, with his sickness serious enough to cause bouts of unconsciousness and widespread worry. The rest of her children, the Grand Princes of the kingdom, are somewhat sidelined, written off for their lack of determination. Then, to make matters more complex, the Queen Dowager appears to be secretly planning to get rid of Hwa-ryeong and co. from the palace, wanting to install a different Crown Prince to shake up the royal family.

Rounded out by showcasing the Queen’s own ambitions to stay put where she is while guarding those close to her, amongst other personal storylines involving the rest of the ensemble, this is a story rooted in royal conflict. Syringed with clear-cut lines drawn between good and evil, cynical and kindhearted, everything is easily accessible, a commendable feat given the breadth of characters.

Generally, the series is fascinating stuff too. We may only be two episodes in, but there has already been heaps of drama. Whether it’s Prince Uiseong’s showings of his chip-on-the-shoulder attitude in believing he should be the heir to the throne or Grand Prince Gyeseong’s private life, there’s plenty going on around the palace, meaning viewers always have something to sink their teeth into. Most notably, the Queen’s perseverant attempts to protect her children in the face of potentially imminent danger are most engaging, particularly given they play a big part in giving the series its raised intensity.

One point worth making is that for something that is supposedly a dark comedy, Under the Queen’s Umbrella largely thrives in its dramatic elements. The humor is often well-placed, sure, but the genuine gravitas of the quickly unraveling plot is far more intriguing and is what helps elevate the show to a greater level. For example, as funny as things like the candid school lesson on sexual intercourse were, they don’t quite pack the same punch as scenes of surprising revelation, or bold proclamations.

With that in mind, the series is strengthened by its strong roster of acting talent. Unsurprisingly, Kim Hye-soo stands out as Queen Hwa-ryeong, topping off her performance with a typically nuanced exhibition of raw emotional resonance. Able to pull off a multifaceted depiction that flits between desperation, desire, and poise (and more), Kim provides the character she plays with an abundance of layers, all of which are easily translated to the viewer. Similarly strong is Kim Hae-sook as Queen Dowager Cho, a conniving elder who is happy to disrupt the established system to get what she desires, even if it results in harm to others.

Continuing, Kang Chan-hee also deserves praise for his memorable display as Prince Uiseong. Affording his character a palpably bitter smugness, the unflinchingly wry son of Consort Hwang is smartly built as a genuinely objectionable man, one people will be hoping gets his comeuppance as things progress. By the same token, Moon Sang-min, Yoon Sang-hyeon, Yoo Seon-ho, and Park Ha-joon all do solid jobs in making the Grand Princes likable, and the complete opposite of their more resentful adversaries.

Complete with the usual polish and flash of a period drama, Under the Queen’s Umbrella has swiftly settled into a comfortable groove, making the most of its palace setting. The challenge now will be keeping up the momentum kickstarted in the series’ opening week, though judging by the seeds currently being sowed, it will be risen to with flair.

What did you think of Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series with a subscription to Netflix.


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