Thought-provoking? No. Enjoyable and frivolous? Yes! Bridgerton was a whirlwind of sequins and aristocratic shags and I am still not sure if I loved it or hated it.
Christmas 2020 was not quite as we’d hoped. The normal celebrations of goodwill and cheer were, for the most-part, replaced with somewhat subdued festivities spent with our (quite literal) nearest and dearest.
Having eaten and drunk far too much on Christmas Day, I did what any normal person would do during that ‘between-Christmas-and-New-Year-what-the-hell-is-going-on’ period: sit on my arse in front of the TV. And I must admit, Netflix really pulled out all the stops with our Christmas prezzie this year. Tied up in a sparkly, 8-part, delightfully bingeable bow was Bridgerton, the Austen-takes-Gossip-Girl bodice-ripper that would make even the likes of Lady Chatterley blush. In my dazed and slightly hungover state, I found myself watching back-to-back episodes, utterly enthralled and unable to stop.
A quick run down of Bridgerton
Don’t get me wrong, Bridgerton is entirely frivolous. And it is nothing we haven’t seen before. Damsels in distress? Check. Rivalries, high society, and lustful courtship? Yes Sir. Sex, drugs and rock and roll? Well, there or thereabouts.
For those of you who haven’t unashamedly spent eight straight hours in front of the telly (yes Netflix, I am still watching), Chris Van Dusen’s adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton plunges us into the midst of 1813 Regency-era London. Season 1 follows the ravishing, doe-eyed Daphne Bridgerton as she blossoms into a lady of society.
In the absence of a father, all of Daphne’s romantic affairs fall to her eldest brother Anthony, who, unsurprisingly, has the intellectual range of a teaspoon. Thus begins the “courting season”, and Daphne’s quest to find the perfect suitor with whom she can fall in love, confidently pay all her dowry and unashamedly dote on for the rest of her life. Hot on her heels are the Featherington daughters, equal in their angst to marry, but somewhat stinted by their overbearing mother, gambling-addicted father and distasteful fashion choices. And to this scene, in walks the dashingly handsome Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, a mysterious bachelor with serious daddy issues. Here, the real fun begins.
Ah, but the plot thickens; no secret is safe from the mischievous ‘Lady Whistledown’, the anonymous scribe of the scandalous newsletters which dish all the dirt on everyone in the ‘Ton’. XOXO, Gossip Girl.
Stepping into the cast
Creator Van Dusen’s interpretation of Regency-era England is refreshingly diverse. For the first time, we have a period drama that goes beyond the whiteness that so often (and by that, I mean always) occupies adaptations of British aristocracy. Of course, such inclusivity needs no justification, but a feeble explanation is given: The Queen Charlotte (played wonderfully by Golda Rosheuvel), a Black woman, marries the white King, and thus ends England’s racism (see, I told you it was frivolous).
Although I was totally up for escaping into the bounds of Bridgerton’s far fetched reality, it did leave me somewhat torn between admiration and discomfort at the choice of a colour-blind cast. We all know a royal marriage can’t magically cure a racist nation – one only needs to look so far as Meghan Markle to see that – and this racial flippancy was, if anything, slightly reductive. As Michele Theil in gal-dem so eloquently puts it, “Bridgerton’s portrayal of race in society is idealised – it wants us to believe that racism is merely a product of hatred, which can be driven out by love”.
Aside from the choice of casting, however, the overall performance throughout the series is spot on. Regé-Jean Page (as Simon) is enigmatic, smutty (but in a good way) and frightfully gorgeous. Adjoa Andoh (as Lady Danbury) is, to put it frankly, a Boss Bitch. Martins Imhangbe (as family man Will Mondrich) is an utter heartthrob. And Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan is the perfect fit for the affectionately intelligent but regrettably resentful Penelope Featherington.
Oh, and I almost forgot: the evasive Lady Whistledown is voiced by none other than Julie Andrews herself. JULIE. ANDREWS. Flawless, my dear.
The old and the new
Bridgerton does, of course, still sport all the classic ingredients of our favourite costume-dramas – Phoebe Dynevor (as Daphne) does a sterling job of the famous Kiera Knightley pout – but the actors still pave the way for the world of idealism that the series so zealously strives for. As I said, historical accuracy was clearly not a precedent in the creation process: it is exactly this semi-authentic fantasyland which has enraptured audiences. Not to mention the series is serenaded by classical arrangements of all our pop faves: who says the likes of Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande couldn’t have rocked the 19th Century? A personal favourite was Kris Bowers’ orchestral take on Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’. Genius.
A true bodice-ripper
A word of advice: if you’re prone to bum-clenching awkwardness at the mere thought of unlacing an undergarment, turn away now. And don’t watch episode 6 with your parents. Or any of it, for that matter. After all, what is a period drama without some full-blown erotica?
From casual coitus in the library to a quick alfresco romp during an afternoon promenade, the sexy scenes are aplenty. My only criticism – and there is only one – is that the steamier moments make it all too clear that the creator is, in fact, a man. Sigh. On her coveted wedding-night-come-sexual-awakening, Daphne reaches a delicate orgasm after *checks watch* 3 seconds of foreplay and… what was that? 10 seconds of missionary? Please. Is it wrong to say that I expected more of producer Shonda Rhimes? I guess I shouldn’t complain. I only wish Rhimes and Van Dusen had taken some notes from Normal People’s intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien. What an exquisite combination that would have been.
What is somewhat less arousing and entirely more puzzling is the young ladies’ total ignorance of the birds and the bees (disclaimer: the pull-out method is not, I repeat NOT, a viable method of contraception). But apparently, that is just part and parcel of being a Regency-era society debutante. One can only be glad that these days we’re taught all the ins and outs (pardon the pun) at school.
Thank you, Netflix
Yes, Bridgerton is silly. Yes, I will henceforth be referring to my daily lockdown walks as “promenades”. And yes, I will absolutely be tuning in for Season 2. This was the perfectly timed Christmas present. We all needed a little escape into flouncing frocks and reckless romance, given the dire state of 2020 and the even more dismal start to 2021. We deserved it. It’s just the right light-hearted antidote to conclude an otherwise miserable year.
All in all, I’m still trying to work out if I loved Bridgerton, or if I was just supremely hungover and blocking out the tiers. I guess I’ll have to watch it one more time, just to be sure. My advice for future watchers is this: if you’re after a quick, whimsical and easily digestible break from the world, look no further: this series is the one for you. But if you’re looking for something eye-opening, thought-provoking or even life-changing, you’re probably not going to find it in Bridgerton.
Image courtesy of Ruthdrawsthings