Under the Queen’s Umbrella is a sprawling, lavish historical K-drama with a massive wealth of characters. For the convenience of viewers, here is a detailed cast list matched with the characters they’re playing in the show.
Kim Hye-soo plays Queen Im Hwa-ryeong, Kim Hae-sook is the Queen Dowager, and Choi Won-young as King Lee-ho. Others joining the show include Moon Sang-min as Grand Prince Seong-nam, Bae In-hyuk as the Crown Prince, Yoo Seon-ho as the Grand Prince Gye-seong, and Kang Chan-hee as Prince Ui-seong.
Episode 1 Recap
Episode 1 of Under The Queen’s Umbrella begins in the dead of night, we see Queen Hwa-ryeong being taken to the palace frantically by her soldiers. Once there, she removes the Prince from Princess Cho-wol’s bed and takes him back. Queen Dowager welcomes the Crown Prince and the Princess and their son.
The king is busy dealing with internal matters of the State. A plague has broken out in Seochon, which forces him to make a decision. Either cut off the village entirely and let them starve, thus preventing any spread; or, take care of the people by giving them food, thus not abandoning them but risking the spread. Lee decides a middle path, which disappoints some of the men.
Hwa-ryeong inquiries about Prince Seongnam and Grand Prince Gyeseong when she comes back. Both have contrasting introductions to viewers. We meet several key characters at Jonghak, the institute where the royal prince and princesses go for an education. Prince Uiseong, Consort Hwang, Prince Simso, Ko, Consort Kim, and Prince Yeongmin are the special ones we will focus on here.
It is no normal day at the institute as Dowager and Lee are supposed to arrive. Tensions run high as the attendance of the royal students is incomplete and Hwa-ryeong makes an effort to handle the situation. Seongnam still hasn’t arrived, even after the King and Queen have. The Crown Prince has a different school of study.
He goes to the Sigangwaon, where the subjects and interests are different. Seongnam finally arrives but does so when the King is in his final minutes of the lesson at Jonghak. Queen Dowager is left unimpressed and later complains to Hwa about their reckless behavior. She tries to allay the Queen’s fears and is impressed by how the Crown Prince is receiving his education at the other institute. All the members of the royal family are expected to set the right example and lead from the front.
Any lack of detail and attention can cause an uproar among the people. It is a cold moment between Dowager and Hwa, but the latter is somewhat relieved after the meeting and decides to postpone banquet preparations. She hears nothing but good news from Sigangwon, where the Prince has passed the test with flying colors.
Uiseong gets bullied by the Grand Princes and that gets Dowager in a fix. She is livid with the boys and punishes them. Watching the scene may remind one of how Aegon was bullied by the kids in episode 5 of House of Dragons. Coming back to point, this incident is followed by a truly tense moment where the Crown Prince collapses on the ground without any external wounds.
Hwa is concerned by her son’s suddenly deteriorated condition. It seems like it is nothing serious and she then attends to Dowager in her quarters. Hwang reprimands Uiseong for being jealous of Hwa and the Crown Prince.
Later in the night, we see the healers inform the Queen that the Crown Prince might be sullied with some kind of blood deficiency. These kinds of incidents have been going on for more than a year almost and the Queen was never informed about them. For some time, she even battles with the idea that the disease might be hereditary and that someone in his lineage carried it before him. The bright side is that whoever it was got the right treatment and was cured.
Dowager informs Hwa of the punishment meted out to the princes for their outrageous behavior with Uiseong. Hwa is careful not to mention the Crown Prince’s condition to anyone else, including the King and the Queen. The next lesson at the Jonghak is about relations. It is your average biology class and a chance for the boys to create a mess among the students.
In a parallel scene, we see the discussion as to who can be a probable replacement for Ja-hong, who has gone to China. The King and the Queen aren’t able to decide immediately. Rumors swirl when a Special Court Lady gets the nod from the King to sit with the others. We see some low-level politics just below the Crown, kickstarted by Consort Hwang when an opportunity comes for the Jonghak Princes to take up a spot with the Crown Prince as a “cohort”.
Uiseong is upset that he won’t be in contention and her mother is sure to fill the ears of fellow concubines about these prejudiced traditions. Each of the concubines tried to investigate how the present traditions came into being, especially the question of how Dowager had managed to turn the tables in her time.
Hwa once again tries to take the focus off the Crown Prince when the King’s attention is fixed on his condition. She gets a bit defensive when she learns of the cohort idea and that Dowager proposed the same. Consort Tae, who had grabbed hold of a book by Dowager about kingsmanship and how to mold one, makes the Queen even more insecure about the entire situation.
She finally has a one-on-one with Dowager after she insists on being with the Crown Prince in bed. Instead of talking about his health and how soon he can get better, Dowager is more interested in matters related to the crown. She sees all the Grand Princes unfit to rule. She says that their behavior is childish and does not warrant a seat on the throne. Only the Crown Prince is in her eyes capable of ruling the people well.
Cho even insinuates that the princes will be stopped from making their claims on the throne if the situation arises for the position to be filled. It is like an open threat to Hwa, who can do nothing about it in the current situation. Hwa, now desperate for answers, asks around for details about who in the lineage was infected with the disease. The Prince who was infected passed on and was Queen Yoon’s son. But as it turns out, Dowager has her reach deep into every aspect of royal life Hwa wants to interfere in.
Yoon already has a secret pact with Dowager and there are no suggestions made by her in this regard. Dowager meets with Hwang and encourages her to push Ueiseong for the role. It is all about gaining loyalty and an upper hand in this impending battle of ascension the crown will face in some time.
The Episode Review
Like many period dramas intend to do these days, Under the Queen’s Umbrella checks the first boxes of production. There are no doubts about the great quality we see on display.
Money has been spent well on costumes, set designs, and getting the contours of the traditions right. That is the first good thing about episode 1. A bit of a downer and positive at the same time is the humungous cast. It will take some time for you to get used to the many players who will participate in this power struggle.
On the one hand, you can quite easily get distracted by some of the unimportant things and miss the real action. On the other, you get to see the strategizing and hushed conspiracies gather pace and become tangible all from start to finish.
The central conflict between Dowager and Hwa is certainly a compelling proposition. Given how the actresses have given an account of themselves in episode 1, Under the Queen’s Umbrella looks set to be a sumptuous occasion to see the craftsmanship of the highest quality on display.
The comic undertones were perhaps not fully optimized in this episode, but the intention to push the narrative in that direction is certainly well appreciated and upcoming episodes will provide an opportunity to rectify those shortcomings.