Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated Kim Hoyeun
How did the royal family educate the future king? Weaving the answers to this question with novel imagination, Under the Queen’s Umbrella depicts the struggle of the queen of Joseon who has entered the “war of education” for her troublemaking sons. The devotion that parents put into their children’s education has always been the same, in the past and the present, so at first, the interest was in how the education of the princes would be portrayed. But the more I watch the show, my eyes are more drawn to the love of a mother who becomes an umbrella for her children, just as the title suggests – Under the Queen’s Umbrella.
Queen Lim Hwaryeong (Kim Hye Soo) is the busiest person in the palace. She oversees the lives of all royal ladies, from the queen dowager to ten royal concubines, and takes care of all the big and small affairs within the palace. Her dependable first son – the crown prince (Bae In Hyuk) – faithfully commits himself to education, but her four other sons are troublemakers called “the only flaw of a sage king” or “the king’s hellions.” Her sons who always cause trouble only give Hwaryeong a headache. Meanwhile, when the position of the crown prince’s baedong (a friend who studies with the prince) becomes absent, the king declares that he’ll choose the new baedong among the princes. With this unexpected decision, Hwaryeong suspects that the queen dowager (Kim Hae Sook) is scheming a plan to threaten her and her children. Around that time, it’s revealed that the crown prince is sick, and Hwaryeong must save her eldest son while turning her four other sons into “reliable candidates,” just in case.
Since Under the Queen’s Umbrella centers around the passion of the queen and the royal concubines for their sons’ education, the drama’s description as “Joseon version SKY Castle” is appropriate. Looking at these ladies going all out to hire famed teachers, get information on the test through all sorts of connections, and even use home remedies and praying to help with kids’ studying, it seems like there’s nothing that mothers won’t do for their children’s education. However, because of when this drama is set, the princes’ education is considered more than the “success of the children” and “parents saving their faces.” The “qualities” of the princes are closely linked to the survival of not only himself but also his mother and his wife and her family. In the series, the queen and the concubines make their sons compete for the position of baedong, thinking that it’s the only way their sons could learn how to become the king. And seeing the crown prince’s deteriorating health, their preparation was the right choice.
But because of this very point, Under the Queen’s Umbrella is receiving criticism. The Joseon throne was succeeded to the first-born son, and if that didn’t work out, the queen’s other sons and then the concubine’s sons follow in the line of succession. It’s been pointed out several times that it doesn’t make sense for Hwaryeong’s sons to compete with the concubine’s sons. However, Under the Queen’s Umbrella explains this setting by stating that “it had already happened before.” The current King Yi Ho (Choi Won Young) became the king, even as a concubine’s son. The queen dowager, who made his son to be the king, hates her daughter-in-law Hwaryeong and her sons and repeatedly shows her willingness to repeat the history “for her son and the royal family.” While royal concubines who are also the daughters of prestigious families corner Hwaryeong, the queen must prove her four sons’ worth not only with a plausible cause but also with their talents. At this point, the two opinions – “the ignored verisimilitude” and “acceptable imagination” – clash.
These controversies and small historical inaccuracies are unfortunate, but there’s one thing about Under the Queen’s Umbrella that captivates the viewers. All the characters have solid narratives, and the relationship between the mothers who’ll do anything for their babies and their children is intriguing. And of course, the actors’ performance is impressive. In particular, Kim Hye Soo completely dominates every episode, convincingly portraying the character that’s both a dignified queen of Joseon and a mother who can’t sleep, worrying about her children’s education and health. In the episode in which the secret of the fourth son Grand Prince Gyeseong (Yoo Seon Ho) is revealed, Hwaryeong moves the hearts of viewers as she soothes his pain after making a choice to save her child.
In episode 5, the crown prince passed away. Now with the crown prince’s position absent, the battle to become the next king will begin in earnest. Hwaryeong stepped up to protect her son and her dead son’s family, and the grand princes who lost his eldest brother will surely mature. Who will be the next king? Also, what’s the secret of Hwaryeong’s second son Grand Prince Seongnam (Moon Sang Min)? I wait for the story to come, with many questions in my mind.
Editor Seo Hae Lan: I’m not picky and like all genres. I am in constant search of a balance between criticism and a fan’s heart