Written by Georgia Hilton-Buckley
Who knew regency dramas were going to become popular again. ‘Bridgerton’ the new Shondaland drama is a cross between ‘Gossip Girl, ‘To all the boys I loved before’ and Jane Austen all set to string versions of modern pop. How could it not be a hit?
The story follows Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) as she debuts in society for her first season, she aims to find a suitable husband that preferably she is in love with. Her older brother Anthony (Johnathan Bailey) scares off all the eligible bachelors in town. It appears that Daphne will be stuck with possibly the most unappealing man since Mr Collins from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. However, The Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page), a tall handsome suitor who has no intention to marry, sweeps onto the scene and becomes the highest prize for the young ladies. Between them, Daphne and the Duke strike up a deal to get what they both want. Daphne wants a husband, and the Duke wants to be left alone, and this is only the first episode. Narrating the whole season is the mysterious Lady Whistledown who keeps the fires of gossip going without revealing her identity.
What makes this show great is not just the main plot between Daphne and the Duke, but also the subplots and characters. There is more than one romance to get invested in as they are abundant! Personally, my favourite characters would have to be Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) and Eloise (Claudia Jessie) due to their playful friendship and vast distance away from the prim and proper Daphne. Anthony, the eldest brother, was also an interesting character for me. Johnathan Bailey is an actor I remember watching when I was eleven when he starred in the CBBC drama Leonardo, seeing him mature is strangely satisfying. The subsequent second season will most likely follow his storyline regarding being the new Viscount if the show follows the popular books.
The show is bright, witty and had an extensive budget, but there are a few downfalls. An issue I frequently find with dramas or stories written about Regency England not written at the time is that they struggle with the language. Every so now and again, the speech is awkward and trying too hard to sound period, and the delivery can come across as slightly pretentious and overacted.
Queerbaiting is another feature that doesn’t sit right with me when watching. The second brother Benedict (Luke Thompson) attends a party of an artist friend and catches him engaging in a gay relationship. It is then teased for the remainder of the season that perhaps Benedict is gay, or is in love with this artist, but nothing ever comes of this. It may be explored in a later season, but it felt like shoehorning in some homoerotic tension just for the sake of it.
An expansion on this would be the presentation of sex in the drama. There’s no escaping it, it is riddled with sex, and I would highly recommend you do not watch it with your Mum, but the sex shown is so unrealistic. Every sex scene is ten seconds of violent penetration with no foreplay resulting in mutual orgasm before you’ve had time to finish taking a sip of your tea. I’m not here to comment on the right and wrong way to have sex, but for a 21st century TV show based on a female written novel, it seems lazy. I feel like the abundance of sex scenes were put in to create some shock factor and move away from the image of a stiff period drama, but they just make me think about how uncomfortable it must be for the female characters.
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the portrayal of sex in the show is the rape scene. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say who its between, but a female character climbs on top of a male character and keeps going when he has said stop and explicitly expressed his desire not to finish inside her for fear of unwanted children. There is no discussion around this difficult scene and the repercussions for the character are zero. The writers attempt to make us sympathise with her but honestly, it feels like a blind scene.
Despite its downfalls, I did still love ‘Bridgerton’. I must mention to diverse a cast as when creating a period drama, it would be so easy to explain a whitewashed cast by scapegoating the society at the time. It’s a bright cheerful change from the bleak lonely world we live in now and provides the best form of escapism.
Georgia Hilton-Buckley is a third-year Politics student at the University of Leicester with an infatuation for books, particularly the classics. She is interested in feminism, philosophy, and music.