From American producer Shonda Rhimes, the mind behind Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder, comes Bridgerton, a bodice-ripper replete with forbidden love, heaving breasts, and the word ‘mamma’.
Dear reader, this author must truly confess that I adore shows like Bridgerton. Like Gossip Girl before it, it’s campy in the extreme, frequently nonsensical, and brimming with salacious, sexy scandal; in other words, it’s the pinnacle of escapist TV which, in my opinion, is just what’s needed when real life is as dire as it is now.
The premise of the show is relatively simple. Set amongst the glamour and excess of Regency-era London, Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) is pronounced the “Incomparable” of the social season by Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), which essentially makes her London’s most eligible bachelorette, and a veritable magnet for potential suitors. However, with her heart set on marrying for love, Daphne devises a clever plan to arouse the attentions of London’s brightest and best gentlemen: by faking a courtship with the dashing Duke of Hastings. If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy, I’m sure you already know where the ol’ ‘faking a relationship’ ploy ends up, but in these uncertain times, there’s nothing like the comforting certitude of predictable TV.
The presence of the seemingly omniscient Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews) – the show’s anonymous newsletter writer and the Spiller of Tea – adds another layer of watchability to the show. If you, like me, are unable to concentrate on anything for ten minutes without scrolling on your phone, then having a narrator to rattle through the key themes and plot points of each episode is an invaluable addition to any show.
I’ll be honest, apart from the period setting, Bridgerton bares little resemblance to British shows like Downton Abbey, which is part of the reason it’s so refreshing. In fact, the show cares little for things like ‘historical accuracy’ (for one, I don’t think anyone in all of history has ever said “of all bitches dead or alive a scribbling woman is the most canine” (the more I read those words the less this sounds like a real sentence??). But this disregard for realism is more than welcome – history is boring anyway.
Take the inclusion of characters of colour, for example. Bridgerton is set in 1813, just before Britain’s ‘Imperial Century’, where the Empire would enslave and exploit BIPOC to gain the very wealth which is so lavishly depicted in the show. This is something we all know too well, but in Bridgerton it’s entirely irrelevant, and I love that. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, where the devastation of racism has held the spotlight like never before, it’s lovely to see people of colour in something fun and light-hearted, and in a period drama as well! It’s 2021 now, and having all-white main casts is embarrassingly outdated. Frankly, actual classical music is outdated too – strings versions of Billie Eilish’s bad guy and thank u, next are all that I need now (I’m joking, please don’t come for me classical music stans).
Perhaps a small problem I have, however, is with Daphne herself. For all the show’s ~girl power~ bluster, is it not, gentle reader, rather bland to focus on a main character who is exactly what society then and now deems correct for a woman to be? She’s demure yet witty, chaste yet able to have apparently mind-blowing sex instantly, talented in music but not excessively so, set on finding a ‘love-match’ and raising a large family, generous and kind to the needy, and conventionally attractive, thin, and white. Of course, I understand feminism is about a woman’s right to choose the path of her own life, but a character as perfect as Daphne seems to me a missed opportunity in a show that makes a point of parodying ridiculous standards for women (“I was able to squeeze my waist into the size of an orange and a half when I was Prudence’s age.” – the iconic Lady Featherington).
Overall, Bridgerton has all the hallmarks of a Netflix original with its diverse cast and insistence on cramming as many female empowerment moments into an hour’s episode as it possibly can, but ultimately it’s at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and makes for amusing viewing when you just want to switch off your brain and watch something cheerful and upbeat.