Seeing Kim Hye-soo and Kim Hae-sook in the cast roster of Under the Queen’s Umbrella gave me the impression that it would be a heavy sageuk drama filled with kimchi slaps and obnoxious bearded men deciding the fate of helpless female characters. But once its teasers dropped, I realized that it would be something different – the good kind of different.
For starters, the series’ main character Queen Im Hwa-ryeong (Kim Hye-soo) is different from the usual Queens in period dramas I’ve seen. She has a streak of unconventionality in her like those “crown princesses to be” in other Joseon series but she also has sagaciousness suited for a Queen. She knows when to break a rule and when not to – or more aptly – know how to circumvent those rules in her favor. And she’s not doing it for her personal interest nor to gain power. All Im Hwa-ryeong wants is to protect her sons from power-hungry members of the royal court.
Her character motivation is the heart and center of this series. It’s a credible enough motivation that made Im Hwa-ryeong compelling and easy to root for against the other royal concubines and especially against Queen Dowager (Kim Hae-sook).
The highlights of Kim Hye-soo’s portrayal for me are the scenes when the Crown Prince (Bae In-hyuk) died and when she discovered the secret of Grand Prince Gye-seong (Yoo Seon-ho). Her breakdowns in those two scenes show how helpless she is in protecting her son, especially that scene after seeing Gye-seong’s secret hideaway. The realization that her son was in danger because of his identity was written all over Kim Hye-soo’s face, from her eyes to her cries. Their moment under the rain after Hwa-ryeong accompanied her son to get a portrait of him was also a personal favorite. It was one of the most beautifully done scenes in this series and from all 2022 dramas. But another thing that I like about Hwa-ryeong is how quick she could bounce back from those hurdles. It wasn’t at all surprising because after everything else, she is a mother.
A story about a mother and her sons is a shoo-in way to tug the audience’s heart but Under the Queen’s Umbrella isn’t just full of tearjerker scenes. The whole series is a mix of humorous and chaotic chases in and out of the palace, funny competitive banters between the princes, heartfelt coming-of-age subplots, and exciting romantic adventures. The series, despite having a lot of characters to deal with, was able to show and give the spotlight to each of them.
The scenes with Hwa-ryeong and her grand princes were always entertaining. The story literally started with her hauling up each one of them to their class. That introductory sequence showed their different personalities and how they were brought up without desiring more than what they already had. The third son, Grand Prince Muan (Yoon Sang-hyeon) only wants a loving relationship with Courtesan Cho-wol (Jeon Hye-won). The fourth son, Grand Prince Gye-seong (Yoo Seon-ho) wants the freedom to be his true self. Grand Prince Ilyoung (Park Ha-joon) just wants to study the stars and astronomy.
The second son, Grand Prince Songnam (Moon Sang-min), didn’t know what he wanted at first. He is a lost sheep that needed Hwa-ryeong’s guidance to discover his place in the Palace. He’s reluctant but his brother’s death motivated him to protect his family. His subplot also contains the right amount of romance element one would need in this kind of drama. Those little scenes between Songnam and Yoon Cheong-ha (Oh Ye-ju) are overflowing with innocent onscreen chemistry that probably even the romance naysayers would find adorable.
Songnam’s character was really fleshed out the most out of all the princes in the series. His story was also utilized to show another side of Hwa-ryeong – her past. It showed that Hwa-ryeong had regrets she was trying not to make again and how she became smarter in her decisions in the palace. That particular backstory makes you understand why Hwa-ryeong is so keen to protect each of her sons and it’s what makes her different from the other mothers in this series.
Just like Hwa-ryeong, the other Royal Concubines also want to protect their sons. Despite their wicked ways, they are all still mothers. Even the Queen Dowager and Consort Hwang (Ok Ja-yeon) were just doing those evil things because they wanted the best thing for their son (that and their greed to get more influence). The Queen Dowager, in particular, was one abominable mother-in-law who was probably the reverse reincarnation of all the evil mothers-in-law in present-day makjang dramas. The villains in this series, I must say, were definitely from the stereotypical mold of drama antagonists. But they still serve their purpose in each episode where they plot out their vile plans.
Unfortunately for the Queen Dowager and the Consort Hwang, the consequence of their action hurt their sons instead. King Yi Ho (Choi Won-young) had to learn what his mother did to get him into the position but he was able to, at least, prove in the end that he deserved the position. Prince Uiseong (Kang Chan-hee) was brought up with awful anger in him because his mother desires a position just because of birthright.
As compared to Uiseong, fortunately, the other princes learned their lessons much earlier on in the story. If we’re talking about side stories in Under the Queen’s Umbrella, an unforgettable one is the episode about Consort Ko (Woo Jung-won) and her son Prince Simso (Moon Sung-hyun). Consort Ko is one of the strictest and most competitive consorts in the Palace but her son was a kindhearted prince, who just did his best to please his mother. The way Consort Ko came to her senses through Hwa-ryeong was very touching. From then on, they begin a bond that lets them save each other’s sons from danger.
Another Palace friendship I like was between Hwa-ryeong and Consort Tae (Kim Ga-eun). Their connection goes way back since Consort Tae started as Hwa-ryeong’s court lady. But Consort Tae almost forgot about this history as she tried to push Prince Bogum (Kim Min-ki) to become the Crown Prince. If I would personally pick a consort’s son to become the Crown Prince, I would definitely choose Bogum. It was heartbreaking to realize that he couldn’t be one just because of his mother’s background. There was no present-day caste system anymore but that subplot still speaks a lot about the modern-day struggles of those who weren’t born with privilege. And I think this is one of the reasons why I enjoyed watching Under the Queen’s Umbrella.
The series is set in Joseon era but their stories are still empathic and could be relatable to the struggles we experience in the present time. The satirical tone played a part in making the whole series entertaining from start to finish. And Under the Queen’s Umbrella is one of those that effectively tells a variety of stories: a mother’s heartfelt love for her son; of women who still showed what they can do despite the gender order limiting their roles; and of young people trying to find their place in the world.
-I enjoyed that Rain cameo!
-My only complaint about this series is the lack of Prince Hodong (Hong Jae-min) screentime.