On Christmas Day Netflix released Bridgerton, an eight-part series that focuses on the Bridgerton family and their romances, narrated by the mysterious gossip writer Lady Whistledown. The beauty of the Regency Era combined with some modern twists truly makes this series a wonderful watch.
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Based off of a series of novels written by Julia Quinn about the Bridgerton family, this Netflix adaptation focuses on Quinn’s first novel, which centres around Daphne Bridgerton.
Set in England, we are introduced to Daphne Bridgerton, the newest and most wanted debutante in the English court. However, finding a suitable husband proves to be nearly impossible.
This is thanks to her eldest brother Anthony, an extremely contradictory character. Whilst he sees no man as good enough for Daphne, he is able to have sexual relations himself.
As annoying as it is to watch, Bridgerton explores the issue of sexism and the different expectations between men and women. Anthony’s aloof nature nearly sets Daphne up with a man who had previously smeared her honour. Although a rather meek and mild character, she devises a plan to avoid such fate, and pursues a fake relationship with Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, who uses her as a way to avoid actually marrying.
As the series unfolds, the viewer is presented with the development of their relationship and explores the story that follows a happily ever after.
There are many things to praise. To start with, the costumes, which are bright and eye-catching, yet historically accurate to its time period. What really caught me eye is a tiny detail to do with corsets. In one of the episodes, the viewer can see that Daphne’s back has been rubbed raw by it. A minor detail which can go a long way in creating the atmosphere and engrossing realism of a period drama.
Bridgerton includes modern references for the appeal of a gen Z audience, along with forward-thinking attitudes and a format catered for the contemporary audience.
In many of the balls, close listeners may hear music from Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes that has been carefully added to fit the ambiance. More so, many of the female characters yearn to break free from their positions in society. This strong female attitude is particularly embodied in Daphne’s younger sister, Eloise. This aspect of the series highlights not only the disparities of the treatment of men and women in the Regency Era, but also in our current age.
“You have no idea what it is to be a woman. What it might be like to have ones entire life reduced to a single moment.” – Daphne Bridgerton
The format of the series differs from a typical historical drama. The addition of Lady Whistledown creates a vibe similar to that of Gossip Girl and explains to the viewer that gossip has always been a driving force of any society.
What I also love is the diversity of the cast. I have recently seen criticism about making the series “too black”, and therefore historically inaccurate.
However, that belief is false. The black population began to flourish during this time period. In addition, Queen Charlotte (King George III’s wife) was reported to be mixed race, and this is how her character is portrayed in the series.
I have read online that due to Queen Charlotte’s power, the black population in the series are granted a place in high society. Nevertheless, it is important to note that historical accuracy of this nature is irrelevant, as a series like this is a subjective interpretation of events.
Moreover, Bridgerton is based off a fictional novel, which allows for varying interpretation. Therefore, the diversity of Bridgerton aids the progressive attitudes in modern TV and film production. Although, I have to admit that society is more than black and white, and it may have been good to include actors of other races.
Bridgerton explores more than gossip and love. There are many sex scenes – realistic ones. Whilst it adds to the raw emotion of the characters, I may recommend that if you do watch it, watch it without your parents. It may get awkward (I had to learn it the hard way). Apart from being a raunchy addition, sex is a key element to this story. It is used to represent passion, confusion and the taboos in Georgian society.
(TW: mentions of sexual assault)
The show also does not shy away from a rather uncomfortable sexual scene. The Duke of Hastings states to Daphne that he is unable to have children. However, in actual fact he can, but chooses not to so he can end the family line to spite his late, abusive father.
Although the two go at it like the world will end, he ensures that the outcome won’t be a child. Daphne learns how babies are made and ensures her husband is unable to escape, completing the process of creating a child.
The issue of this scene is that it portrays male rape. For the modern viewer, this scene is uncomfortable. Personally, this assault scene was quickly brushed over and instead the focus is put onto the issue of the possibility of a child, rather than it being an assault. Even with the context of this time period, this scene still proves unsettling.
Instead of assaulting her husband, it may have been wiser to communicate with him. The lack of communication is a truly frustrating element of the series, while also being a sharp observation of Georgian high society.
It is important, however, to analyse this issue to a deeper extent. Women were expected to become mothers with many children. Hence why Daphne wanted to be a mother so badly. Simon, however, wants no such thing and before meeting Daphne, he had been free to visit brothels.
On the other hand, if a woman was not married, she would be labelled as a spinster. Simon states to Daphne that if she does give birth, he will do his duty as a man and look after his family. The attitudes of both characters emphasises the expected roles of men and women.
Was Daphne afraid of not living up to her expectations? Maybe, but still the assault scene is unsavoury and overly romanticised.
Another issue is the toxicity of the relationship between Daphne and Simon. Their relationship did start as a farce and the two became husband and wife after he kissed her, smearing her honour.
However, I could not help but become frustrated at their behaviour towards each other. Whilst it is important to note that no relationship is perfect, no healthy relationship should be that bumpy. Maybe the toxicity adds a touch of realism or explains to the audience that a happily ever after is not so simple.
The last episode is a strong ending, tying up loose strings while creating more to be resolved in future seasons.
Apart from Bridgerton being a good watch, prompting me to write this review, it is also related to York. Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire, is featured as the Duke of Hasting’s estate. In addition, Dr Hannah Greig, a senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of York, aided the production process for this series to ensure accuracy in Bridgerton.
I would greatly recommend people to watch Bridgerton. It presents issues of class and gender, mixing it with the beauty and history of the Regency Era with modern and engaging elements.