There are many reasons to watch Netflix’s Bridgerton series.
It’s not everyday that romance and regency fashion collides with the modern day world. Based on Julia Quinn’s novels on the Bridgerton children, Netflix’s TV adaptation has created a new wave of regency core in fashion, aesthetic, music and romance.
The makers of Shondaland, under the American TV producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes, have managed to make Bridgerton a hit series for Netflix with the show topping all English-language TV series for the streaming platform with 115.7 million hours viewed between April 4 to 10 for the second season. The first season of the show brought a viewership of 82 million households after the series debuted on Christmas day in 2020.
The second season of the regency show also currently stands at global number one for English-language TV series on Netflix. Bridgerton has now become synonymous with the romance-regency trope by reviving the period drama to younger audiences. This is done by casting diverse and representative characters, employing elements of gossip and scandal – that entices teenagers – and transforming modern pop music into a classical orchestral sound.
If you are an English literature lover and enjoy the works from the nineteenth century that pertained to romantic and Victorian writing, then you will most likely enjoy Bridgerton. Jane Austen is thought to be a key influence to the author behind the Bridgerton novels, Julia Quinn. Whether Austen is an influence or not, the emphasis is on the romantic phrases and dynamics that were popular during this era that have leant themselves well to Bridgerton.
Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma, amongst other stories, would focus on the hopeless romantic ideal. Instead, in this world created in period drama, the romance would not be hopeless but very much real and marked with tear-soaked letters, dramatic galloping with horses in the fields, and secret rendezvous’ in the storm.
The ideal of courtships comes as a longing for the old and traditional way of dating with suitors which is now much more complex for relationships in the dating scene today. More people are tuning in to fall for Shonda Rhimes’ leading man after their dominance, their way with words mixed with slight arrogance and mysterious background sets audiences swooning. The popular trope of enemies to lovers continues to thrive with the romance genre. Tit-for-tat dialogues with Shakespearean language are creating some of the best on-screen chemistry audiences have seen between two lead actors for a long time, hitting the mark for all audiences from young to old.
Whilst the marriage market and social season is also an element of Austen’s world just as it is in Bridgerton, the series remains aware of modern times by employing the character of Eloise Bridgerton. Eloise is the feminist speaker head of the Bridgerton family, and perhaps the whole show. She is the only girl coming of age, and woman, who diverts herself away from the societal norms and expectations by declaring that she rather not squawk like the other women looking to find a husband by dressing up in pretty gowns and makeup, but by flying from the nest and seeing the world.
In season two, Eloise eventually begins to take action by attending feminist readings in the poorer areas away from Mayfair. At one point, she also mentions that she has been reading Mary Wollstonecraft, who is a leading pioneer in feminist thought and the mother of Mary Shelley from the Romantic era.
The air of gossip with Lady Whistledown – who is a pen name for Penelope Featherington – is a clever device to bring in elements of scandal which is a key component of soap operas and drama that Shonda Rhimes does well. It is used in a way that can be related to the cult TV show Gossip Girl, where an anonymous source with great influence would post the secrets of the wealthy people from the Upper East Side – just as Lady Whistledown sends out well-read newsletters releasing the next scandal. This sense of scandal, shock and outrage is the taboo that comes from crossing society which makes for excellent TV.
In terms of fashion, the aesthetic series has also helped bring back corsets within women’s clothing which has been brought into the mainstream with corset crop tops and corset dresses. This is notably seen in materials like satin and silk which are related to rich clothing. Gloves that are worn up to the ladies elbow and mostly worn at balls have become a key accessory for young people mirroring the nostalgia for the regency era, no matter how historically inaccurate.
This can also be seen with the music in the series. Popular songs such as Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams and Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know are turned into string orchestra classical pieces by Duomo for the show, adding to the romantic setting. These nuggets of pop culture are enough to entice young adult audiences that would not necessarily tune into Downton Abbey, but stay glued to Bridgerton for the romantic ideal.
Striking a balance between diversity and historical accuracy is a challenge for a period piece, but Shonda Rhimes manages to find a way. By simply glossing over some key parts of history that could be a creative restraint and a negative reminder for viewers, Bridgerton is able to be a hedonistic utopia for all.
Shonda Rhimes is known for her diverse casting that is more subtle rather than forced. With the Duke played by Rege-Jean Page in season one, a black man was able to be the lead that everyone coveted in a period and regency environment mimicking the nineteenth century. Rhimes continued her representation of interracial relationships into season two with Simone Ashley playing the lead love interest, Kate Sharma. Kate arrives with her younger half sister, Edwina, who is cast as the diamond of the season. This shows how both Daphne, who is a glorified Western notion of beauty, and Edwina, who represents dark-skin Tamil women can all be diamonds in an English regency setting in the show. Moreover, the Queen is cast as the magnificent Golda Rosheuvel, another person of colour, encouraging the tipping of the scale for what is to be expected from a historical period piece.