Bridgerton: A period drama you don’t want to watch with your grandma
If you’re looking for a quaint period drama you can watch with your grandma, for the love of God, don’t put this on. In fact, one of the saving graces of lockdown might be that most people (unlike this reviewer) managed to avoid accidentally watching this particular show with their parents and being subjected to an onslaught of gratuitous sex that, in the wrong company, borders on torturous.
X-rated scenes aside, the series has plenty of binge-worthy charm. This Netflix hit, based on a set of Mills-and-Boon-esque romance novels by Julia Quinn, follows the titular Bridgerton siblings and their attempts to find love (and fortune). The first instalment centres around eldest daughter Daphne as she navigates the perils of coming out, dodging advances and safeguarding her reputation with the cunning of a politician. She meets her match in the dashing Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) but when lust and honour collide, they propel themselves into a courtship that veers quite spectacularly between fiery passion (without much regard for the servants) and cold silence (a welcome relief).
Page’s smoulder burns with classic intensity, and the chemistry between the central pair is compelling, if controversial. Certain encounters have proved contentious amongst viewers – namely with regards to the Duke’s failure to fully explain how babies are made (sex education is not a core subject in this world) and a scene in which Daphne restrains her lover without his consent. The fictional community also reels in the wake of their impropriety, and one begins to wonder why anyone would venture into the garden at night given the number of shady incidents that occur in the shrubbery. Nonetheless, as the couple’s spinning dance becomes increasingly perplexing, the secrets of the season take centre stage.
The most intoxicating mystery is the identity of Lady Whistledown, the writer of a scandalous local newsletter. As her publications rock society, gossip becomes a weapon wielded by women – even perennially bored Queen Charlotte (a sparkling Golda Rosheuvel) is obsessed with harnessing this source of power. The casting of an actress of colour in the role of the monarch seems a long-overdue homage to her African heritage; the diversity of the aristocracy in general, on the other hand, is a purposeful distortion of a troubling past through a generously tolerant modern lens (Quinn herself is adamant in her reminder that the books are works of fantasy). This decision to rewrite history and ditch the whitewashed ensemble is welcome indeed – though a lack of sufficient background or thematic exploration is potentially problematic for a nation that still fails to address its most deep-rooted prejudices.
Nevertheless, the series excels most when it embraces the contemporary. The popular soundtrack, adapted for classical instruments, pulses with fresh, syncopated rhythms, and the colour-coordinated costumes shine like this season’s catwalk collection. Even the clashing, frilly spectacle of the Featherington family (in particular the aggressive yellow palette used to dress Nicola Coughlan’s unimposing Penelope) are perfectly judged. In essence, the best way to approach Bridgerton is not to take it too seriously, but rather to succumb to the trashy fun and let it lead you down the stairs in a dazzling ballgown.
Bridgerton was released digitally on demand on 25th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for Bridgerton here: