It concerns about the perennial quest for power in all times and all cultures. This particular one is set in medieval Korea a few hundred years ago in the Joseon era. You might not think women play much of a role, but in this setting (that has taken a few historical liberties) they have a great deal. Don't think they are more gentle about the process--far from it! The original Korean title ("Sharup") means an umbrella and symbolizes the caring of women for their children.
Primary character is the Queen with four sons. She is opposed by a woman called a Dowager Queen that we might call the Queen Mother and in this case is the mother in law of the Queen. Of course there is a King who basically is a caring and thoughtful ruler with ten wives and some concubines. There are lots of mostly male counselors that have their own vested interests. There are other mothers with sons and daughters who want to protect the interests of their children (and thereby assure their own future security).
The Dowager Queen actually started as a concubine and was somehow able to intrigue to get one of her sons to be the current King. In reality concubines have not historically had this much influence, but there have always been concubines. The Queen naturally wants her eldest son to be the Crown Prince in line for the throne. Unfortunately he dies in circumstances that are mysterious and it is decided rather than pick up with the next son to open it up for the most worthy candidate even to the sons of the royal concubines.
There is all manner of cheating and manipulations. And lots of maneuvering upon a wide range of characters. The Queen and the Dowager Queen are the most clever. The Dowager Queen when confronted by her unethical behavior answers with "so." The Queen is more ethical and is also very methodical in uncovering incriminating information.
Education is important for the upper classes. A surprise element was sex education at least for upper class males which drew interest from otherwise lackadaisical students. An important factor is to provide for an heir.
One ongoing theme is that treachery breeds more treachery. Nobody arrived at their present status without corrupt manipulation.
This series was a mammoth effort that received high ratings. A talented cast and crew should be noted.
Director Hyung Shik Kim has ten tv series for his film credits.
Park Ba-ra wrote the script (her first) after doing a lot of historical research. She wanted to respect tradition, but also give a more progressive, feminist tinge. In her script the Queen is seen running which has never been shown in other Joseon dramas. The competition for Crown Prince never happened as there was a strict hierarchy determined by blood lines. She did feature the traditional Korean hair pin and high lighted Korean foods including kimchi.
Kim Hye-su plays the Queen. A black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Hye-su is a much decorated actress. Some of her films include: "The Red Shoes" (2005), "The Thieves" (2012), "Signal" (2016) and "Hyena" (2020) in which she contributed to one of my biggest laughs in years, "Juvenile Justice" (2022) check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/03/juvenile-justice.html
Kim Hae-sook as the Dowager Queen is very dislikeable, but that is what you want in a villain. She has 74 film credits including "Thirst" (2009), "The Thieves" (2012), "The Handmaiden" (2016), "Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds" (2017), and "Hospital Playlist" (202-2021).
The King projects both wisdom and authority and is played by Choi Won-Young. He has four film credits including a cameo appearance in "Hyena" (2020).
Queen Yoon, a deposed Queen is played by Seo Yi-Sook. She has 27 film credits including "Queenmaker" (2023) which will be blogged about shortly.
The Chief State Counselor, another dislikeable character is played by Kim Eui-sung. He has 55 film credits including "Train to Busan" (2016) and "Memories of the Alhambra" (2018-2019).
You can get captivated by this series on Netflix. Sometimes in our vanity we think that modern society is the centre of existence and spend little time pondering how we reached our present state.