It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Sunday evening must be in want of a period drama

Bridgerton: A Regency Romp

Bridgerton: A Regency Romp

When asked what I think of Bridgerton, I feel there is no summary quite so apt as the immortal words of Mrs Philips: ‘I have heard tales of gaming debts, of drunken routs… in which more things were broken beyond repair than heads and furniture….debauches, intrigues, seductions…’ One sometimes wonders if the writers of Bridgerton took these words as their framework and wove the plots around them. It is a series about all the things that are hinted about, but would only ever happen off-page, in an Austen novel. 

Austen, Gaskell, Eliot, Dickens, Hardy et al. it is not. But, once you get over this (and, perhaps, yourself), this series is eminently entertaining, brilliantly bingeable and excellently escapist. A sort of Gossip Girl-cum-Regency Downton with Outlander/Game of Thrones levels of sex and that feeling of ‘romp’ that you get when reading a Georgette Heyer novel. 

In a dreary, lockdown-strewn winter, I am not at all surprised that this accessible, colour-blind and thoroughly modern show has been a roaring success with its beautiful settings, beautiful costumes and beautiful people. I loved it. Not one to watch with the parents (or children!) but I loved it. 

(Spoilers below if you are yet to watch this Netflix/Shondaland mega-hit) 

Bridgerton is set in London in 1813, sort of. As the historical purists out there have noted, there are rather a lot of inaccuracies but this anachronism is partly the point. In an interview with The Guardian, Julia Quinn, author of The Duke and I (on which Bridgerton series one is based) stated unequivocally that she has been ‘dinged by the historical accuracy police’ but that this is ‘romantic fantasy’. She is also thoroughly in favour of the casting through an ‘inclusion lens’ calling it ‘wonderful and joyous’. And so it is.

This season focussed on the will they-won’t they romance between Regé-Jean Page’s Duke of Hastings and the eldest daughter (but fourth child) in the Bridgerton family. It is fairly predictable: they meet but are hostile to each other, this nonchalance piques their interest in each other, they decide to pretend to be in love to rescue each other from others’ unwanted attention, then, quelle surprise, they fall in love… and to be honest most of us fall a little bit in love with at least one, if not both, of these characters.

Although it isn’t exactly a new trope, it is a new take on this period. Personally, I loved the series for the quick pace, background storylines and for making you think about the trials, tribulations, hopes, joys and thoughts of daily regency(ish) life. 

As the backdrop to this (very sexy) romance, you have the gossip-girl Lady Whistledown, a secret writer who publishes various missives about the gossip of the ton. Her newsletters form the narration for the series (hello Julie Andrews, how lovely to hear your voice) and shape the fortunes of ‘the diamond of the season’ and all the other lords, ladies and gentlemen of the ton: ‘Dear reader, if there is a scandal, I shall uncover it.’ In the final scene Lady Whistledown’s identity is revealed. I will not write this here because I, for one, still wish I didn’t know for sure! Personally I think that this was a mistake on the part of Netflix/Shondaland et. al. But perhaps, despite their pedigree, they suffered from jitters about leaving a Sanditon-like cliffhanger if this were to be cancelled after the first season. 

The rest of the Bridgerton clan (named A-H) form the backdrop for the Duke and Daphne, alongside the Featherstone’s (a rival aristocratic family) with their financial troubles, cousin Marina’s clean sheets and three unmarried (and, at least two, unmarriageable) daughters. 

I must give an honourable mention to Eloise and Pen, the sort of Lizzy Bennets of the piece. Wanting more from life, shunning expectations, rebelling (Eloise appears to have discovered cigarettes a good two decades before anyone else in England did), set slightly apart from the rest of the ton, and fighting to achieve their independence while seeing through all the superficial nonsense of the society that surrounds them. 

Taken as a whole it is fun, light, entertaining and sumptuous. Enjoy it for what it is: a lighthearted, treat for the eyes in terms of costume, houses, landscapes and people, pure escapism. And, if Daphne and the Duke fail to quicken your pulse, perhaps Anthony Bridgerton and his operatic beau might. Anthony is my favourite, which is fortuitous as Season Two, which Netflix has confirmed, will follow his romantic exploits among the ton.

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