Bridgerton, courtesy of Netflix and Shondaland, brings diversity to historical period drama and has become a big hit. Spoilers ahead.
With last Christmas cancelled and everybody cooped up indoors since January, households have looked to TV for their comforting escapism. With this comes great responsibility for streaming services who strive to keep people entertained. Netflix has not disappointed. Bridgerton arrived on our screens on Christmas day and Netflix projected that within its first month, it reached 63 million households. The show is a Shondaland project (Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal). It is being described as a hybrid of Jane Austen and Gossip Girl. It is a step away from Shondaland’s usual work but remains a strong, successful new project.
Bridgerton follows the story of Daphne Bridgerton, her aristocratic family and the dramatic challenges that come with living in a rich Regency London society. The first series is primarily based on Julia Quinn’s first novel in the series, The Duke & I. Like Gossip Girl, secrets, scandal and upper-class society consume each character and family. The only difference is Bridgerton has a royal, early 19th century background.
The diverse casting choices such as Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) brought a lot of pre-release attention. Bridgerton is a celebration of diverse casting and should be encouraged more in period dramas. This is something which similar predecessors such as Downton Abbey have notably lacked in. In response to people who criticise diverse casts, Nicola Coughlan who plays Penelope Featherington in the show tweeted:
You know the way some people were like ‘Diversity in period drama doesn’t work’….63 million households thought it did tho so 💀 https://t.co/mQ2rXysacN
— Nicola Coughlan (@nicolacoughlan) January 5, 2021
How it portrays the mother-daughter relationship
The main aim for majority of the mothers in the show is to attract a suitor for their daughters and have them married before the season is up. However, attracting a proposal and courting is not easy. Not only must they impress the Queen, but also Lady Whistledown. She is the town’s all-knowing, anonymous and enigmatic gossip columnist. Much like Gossip Girl, you can hear Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) but she is never seen. She spreads gossip, reveals secrets and keeps the town gripped and anxious in equal measure.
A recurring theme throughout the show is the race to discover Lady Whistledown’s identity. Eloise Bridgerton mainly takes charge of this, as she is an outlier among the female characters. She echoes similar traits to Jo March from Little Women or Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. This mysterious element of the show adds an amusing dynamic for viewers who may not be as interested in the romantic storylines and prefer watching the havoc Whistledown’s frequent column causes.
Bridgerton’s fresh take on history
The importance of historical accuracy does not weigh down the show, making it one of its best characteristics. Instead, Bridgerton presents a hybrid of historic and modern elements – a fresh perspective to period piece dramas. One of my favourite elements of the show (and arguably the most underrated), is the soundtrack. Well-known pop songs with an old fashioned twist. It includes tracks such as Thank U Next by Ariana Grande, Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift and Bad Guy by Billie Eilish. It reminds viewers of the fictionalised historical premise of the show. The soundtrack is the perfect easy listening versions of these popular, well-loved tracks:
Some scenes may not be for family viewing
Bridgerton mostly focuses on coming of age and gender role themes. Especially the perception of women and how ill-equipped majority of girls are when they enter relationships. The male characters, such as the Bridgerton brothers or Simon, the Duke of Hastings are all overtly sexualised, well-educated people. On the other hand, the Bridgerton and Featherington girls are all youthful, sheltered and innocent. Characters such as Daphne are not only tasked with the role of a Duchess, but she must also learn about how to be a wife and a mother.
While important, sometimes there is an overindulgence in the sex scenes. They can become repetitive rather than integral to the storyline. If you’re one to feel easily awkward about those kinds of scenes and scramble for the remote control when they come on, I would definitely recommend watching this series alone – especially episode 6!
If you want to escape from these difficult and stressful times, Bridgerton is the perfect series. The show provides the perfect light-hearted and joyful viewing, leaving audiences wanting more. Its success is not only an ode to the excellent story by Julia Quinn but also Shonda Rhimes’ magic that has gripped us on TV for years. I hope Bridgerton will be a pioneer for other book-to-screen adaptions to come.
It will allow diverse casting to become a normalised trait on TV rather than a topic of debate. Luckily for us, Netflix confirmed recently that Bridgerton will return for a second season, with production starting in the spring.