If there are two things I love, it’s Regency era England and Shonda Rhimes. The two combine wonderfully in the show “Bridgerton” on Netflix. This drama, set in Regency England, is everything that we love about Shondaland, but then you add in corsets and waistcoats. The show, which is eight hour-long episodes, is so much fun. It’s like “Gossip Girl” meets “Hamilton.” And it features a diverse cast of hot young actors plus British accents. Honestly, what’s not to love? If you need something to binge, this is it.
“Bridgerton” is based on a series of novels by Julia Quinn. These are not novels written during the Regency, but Regency romance, which is a genre modeled after the time period. Quinn’s books are a more contemporary style of the genre, which means it can contain more modern ideals. Her books also include more sensuality and sex than other novels in the genre might. Of course this makes for excellent television, especially in the hands of Shonda Rhimes and company.
The biggest and important difference between the “Bridgerton” books and series is the lack of diversity. We all know that having a racially diverse cast is a Shondaland norm. But many romance readers and writers, especially women of color, have pointed out that Quinn’s books are as lily-white as Daphne’s heaving bosom. It’s great that they’ve chosen to make the show more diverse (with Quinn’s blessing.) But it’s hard to just throw Black people into a story they didn’t exist in previously. (There are reports that Queen Charlotte was actually Black, or at very least had some African ancestry.) Because there’s a lot of racial nuance that you need to address when adding Black people.
Someone like the Duke wouldn’t just automatically be desirable. In the show we never hear any characters address his race. Only Lady Danbury ever brings it up and it’s only to the Duke directly. She reminds him of how hard it was for Black people to become a Duke and Lady and that’s about it. There was a real opportunity there to address what it must feel like being in their positions. Many will argue that not everything has to be about race, but this would have added richness to the plot. Think about the tense and highly dramatic conversations that could have transpired over that.
All that being said, I flipping love that there are Black members of the aristocracy on “Bridgerton.” It’s refreshing to see people who look like me represented. Because though people may not think it’s realistic, they existed. I love Queen Charlotte and wish we got to see more of her, even though that wasn’t the story. (I would very much like a spin-off focusing on her relationship with King George.) Lady Danbury is one of the best characters on the show. She takes no bullshit from anyone, and can see through it all. Her relationship with the Duke feels so familiar. Lady Danbury is the ultimate example of the Black auntie. She would do anything for her best friend’s son, and so, she is the only constant in the Duke’s life. When you see the flashback of her and the Duke’s father and she reads him for filth? Gave me life!
Let’s talk about the Duke. First, I have to say, I fucking adore Rege-Jean Page. I’ve loved him since I saw him in the updated version of Roots a few years ago. He’s a brilliant actor, and let’s face it, a total babe. Page gives Simon a dimension that doesn’t exist otherwise. The tortured hottie trope is nothing new (shoutout to “Twilight.”) But Page’s interpretation of Simon makes him feel like a man rather than merely a trope. He plays Simon with swagger and bravado, but you know there’s more there. And not just because his childhood plays out in a series of flashbacks — you can see it in his eyes. Some of the best moments are when he is trying to suppress his stutter. The stutter is his greatest shame, and those moments show that no matter how hard he tries, it’s always a part of him.
The chemistry between Page and Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Daphne Bridgerton, is off the charts. And I’m not talking about the sex scenes (yet!) It’s more palpable in the sideways glances they share. Or when their fingers brush each other’s. That’s even hotter than when you see them having sex. And they have a lot of sex. Which makes sense; it’s a new relationship. We’ve all been there.To be completely honest, if I had a castle like that, I would want to defile every room too. I think “Bridgerton” does sex really well — it’s never gratuitous, but not sterile or boring either. The scene where he teaches her how to masturbate? I needed a cold shower for sure.
Sex is a very important part of the relationship between Daphne and Simon. And while I can understand it because of the time period and their age, it causes a lot of problems for them. They’re so infatuated with each other, they don’t communicate. This particular part of their arc felt very realistic. You remember what it’s like to be young and in love — who’s thinking about talking when you’re perpetually horny? But, like … they really needed to talk a little. They don’t, though, and those consequences are exactly right for the kind of soapy drama that “Bridgerton” is. It’s important to mention there is a non-consensual sex scene between the two characters. It’s integral to the plot, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Some people may shrug it off, but it made me really uncomfortable.
That moment aside, there is so much of “Bridgerton” that I love, it’s so hard to narrow it all down. I hope we find out more about the original Viscount Bridgerton and Anthony having to take over. Julia Quinn’s book series includes books for each “Bridgerton,” and I’m hoping we get all eight of them. Because I have so many questions about Eloise and I need answers. And I want to know more about Henry too. In an ideal world, we get more backstory on the Featheringtons too. They remind me so much of Cinderella’s evil stepmother and stepsisters. I want to know what they did to make everyone low-key hate them. You know it’s probably something ridiculous, which I love.
“Bridgerton” is everything I hoped it would be. It’s total escapism, which is the best thing right now considering the year we’ve had. Plus, the acting is incredible. And while the story has a few disappointing plot points, as a whole, it’s an enjoyable first season. Hopefully Netflix picks it up for a second season, because I need to know what happens next!