Netflix dropped its latest bingeworthy series, Bridgerton, on Christmas Day, and here is my post to sing its praises and request that not only can we please have a second series, but also that Shonda Rhimes, and her production company Shondaland, be in charge of making even more period drama series. I’ll try not to include too many spoilers here, but there will be some ahead – including some of an uncomfortable nature, just as a warning (which I have labelled!).
Bridgerton is based on the bestselling series of books by Julia Quinn, with this season focussing on the first book, The Duke and I. (Unbelievably I’ve never read any Julia Quinn, but I am, as we speak, remedying this and am a fifth of the way through The Duke and I.) It follows the eldest daughter of the Bridgerton family, who are at the top of society in Regency London, and a family of eight children.
Daphne Bridgerton is brilliant and beautiful, and tipped as the belle of society by none other than Queen Charlotte herself. However, suitors lose interest and so as to try and re-establish herself as a key prize in the marriage market, she cooks up a plan with Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings.
Simon is the best friend of Daphne’s older brother Antony, and a determined bachelor and rake who desires never to marry. Unfortunately for him, he is the well-connected, title and rich bachelor that mothers across le bon ton are trying to court for their daughters.
The solution? Simon will show interest in Daphne, making other potential suitors compete for her attention, and Daphne will show interest in Simon, keeping away the scheming mothers of Georgian society. Of course, you might be able to guess how this solution works out – but this isn’t just a story about two people.
Le bon ton
What I really enjoyed about Bridgerton is that there were plenty of different storylines to follow that are both dramatic and immersive, and I felt like foreshadowed future events in the books, or hopefully, future seasons of the show. Even though Daphne and Simon are the main focus, it did feel like there was an ensemble nature to the show which meant there were lots of different interesting characters that also pinpointed lots of different experiences of Georgian high society – and frequently the fragile nature of social standing during this period.
Of course the series is pacey, dramatic and enjoyable, but it also does highlight the precarious nature of having society at your feet. (A tiny shot of Daphne’s back scarred from wearing her corset also reminded us of the literal pain of having such weight thrust upon her aristocratic shoulders.) No more is this exemplified than in the omniscient, mystery narrator of Lady Whistledown, who anonymously publishes a society gossip paper that frames much of the action in each episode. For me, this really pushed how rife gossip, judgement and conversation was in Georgian society – and how quickly it could make or ruin a reputation – but also, Lady Whistledown’s paper is narrated by one of my favourite actresses of all time, (queen) Julie Andrews. That was a lovely touch!
Excellent casting choices
I thought the casting of the show was brilliant: diverse, wonderfully acted and compelling. In particular, I loved Golda Rosheuvel’s portrayal of Queen Charlotte. The short moments in which she is in the company of her suffering husband, King George III (played by James Fleet in an excellent choice of casting), were, in my opinion, so perfectly acted and highlighted the roundedness of her character. Charlotte is the person to which everybody looks to for approval, and she seems emotionally quite hard, but in these short moments, we see the pain she suffers at being so in love with her husband and having not only to watch him struggle so hard with illness, but suffer herself as he struggles to remember things and takes his misunderstanding and confusion out on her, a loving wife.
Other characters and relationships I enjoyed were the friendships between Eloise Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington – with Eloise being a clever, curious teenager on the trail of finding out Lady Whistledown’s identity – and also the friendship between Penelope and Marina Walter, a distant relation brought into the Featherington household, who is soon revealed as pregnant by the soldier she was in love with. Penelope was an interesting character who, despite her mother’s cold and calculating treatment of Marina and her dangerous position as an unmarried pregnant woman in Georgian society, offers an important and genuine friendship to Marina, who is lost with much weight to bear.
A soundtrack I’m now obsessed with
Of course, I have to mention the production, costumes and soundtrack. Rimes has created a colourful Regency world full of enchanting locations (Bath and Castle Howard – hence my featured photo! – in particular shine) and beautiful costume design by Ellen Mirojnick. (Read more on the 7,500 costume pieces Mirojnick designed here!) I am particularly enchanted by the soundtrack, which included renditions of modern songs, such as Maroon 5’s Girls Like You, Billie Eilish’s bad guy and Ariana Grande’s thank u, next by the Vitamin String Quartet. (You can now stream this as an EP – find it on Spotify here). It might seem like such a subtle detail, but it really does fit with the modern feel of this period drama created with a twenty-first century audience in mind.
*Trigger warning: sexual assault
One thing I do have to mention, which I will preface with a trigger and spoiler warning, is the sexual assault that takes place in episode 6. Now I haven’t read that part of the book yet, but I understand that it has been significantly changed for the television adaptation. It is, however, clearly a sexual assault in that Daphne stops Simon from being able to pull out when he clearly has not consented to this. I feel the series focusses too much on the fact that Daphne does this because Simon lied to her about his feelings on and ability to have children, rather than the fact she actually assaults him. Though Simon shows his clear disdain for her, I do feel that Daphne’s hurt over his lie is focussed on more readily, and it is something that I hope would be addressed further if they did make more series of this show, as to me it seemed problematic. It is the only thing that I think lets down the series, amongst otherwise sensitive and thoughtful production. I should add as well that Netflix does have a trigger warning for sexual violence at the beginning of the episode.
*End of trigger warning
Aside from this, which I feel is a surprising problem amongst an otherwise flawless series, I feel that Bridgerton is an interesting, entertaining and beautifully made production which brings to life the world of le bon ton: less staid than previous productions of the Regency world (though that doesn’t mean I love those any less), I feel like Bridgerton fits with the newer adaptations, such as Autumn de Wilde’s Emma., which offer a pacier and perhaps more compelling adaptation of the period for the twenty-first century viewer. All I can say is reiterate my wishes for a second series, and that I will now be going to watch all other projects by Shonda Rhimes!