A period drama with an introspective lens on sexuality and a wardrobe to envy
By Ilenia Reale / Staff Writer
Creator of hit television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda Rhimes made her debut on Netflix with an eight-episode show that was first launched on Christmas Day and that many are still talking about: Bridgerton.
The TV show is based on the first book of a series of historical romance novels created by writer Julia Quinn. The story is set in London during the first half of the 19th century and is focused on the life of the (quite large) Bridgerton family. In particular, the show focuses on the eldest daughter, Daphne, who is now ready for her debut into society. She must attend an infinite number of balls in hopes of finding a good fit for a husband. By chance, Daphne meets Simon, the Duke of Hastings and a good friend of her brother, who is in town for business. The two don’t really get along at first but eventually find a way to be useful to one another; Daphne needs someone to make all the other suitors jealous and Simon, who has no intention whatsoever of marrying, needs an escape from the “mamas” of the city who are all trying to convince him to marry their daughters. In order to solve their problems, Simon and Daphne pretend to be together until both their problems are solved. However, as you can already imagine, their relationship turns out to be more than just beneficial…
While we follow Simon and Daphne’s story, we also find out about the rest of the Bridgerton family and other characters who are involved in different storylines. The whole narrative is tied together by the soothing voice of Lady Whistledown, a mysterious woman who secretly publishes all the juicy gossip about the London citizens. She feeds the nosy nature of the residents by revealing their most hidden secrets, stirring up some good old drama that we, as viewers, can’t get enough of.
Right from the first episode, Bridgerton carries the audience into the world of the wealthy in 19th century London. The beautiful dresses, engaging soundtrack, formal English, and the care for etiquette are all effective in this sense. Even though these elements have some sort of historical reference, the show doesn’t claim to be historically accurate per se. In fact, it is more appropriate to say that Bridgerton draws inspiration from the 19th century, but the historical setting doesn’t stop the producers from adding components from modern times as well.
Take, for instance, the wardrobe. Bridgerton features a plethora of unique outfits that are not historically accurate but that still work in the semi-modern world of the show. An incredible number of dresses— around 7,500— was created by costume designer Ellen Mirojsky, so the main characters could showcase different attire for every occasion.
Despite the variety of outfits, the dresses still follow a fil rouge that gives cohesion to the show. Apart from the iconic silhouette, a clear example of this detail is the color-choice adopted. The audience may notice a recurrent theme in the dresses of the Bridgerton family; their looks are always based on a pastel color palette characterized by light blues, greens, and silver. On the other hand, the Featheringtons, neighbors of the Bridgertons, are always seen in bright colors, such as yellow or orange, that make them stand out in the crowd.
The overall fashion displayed in Bridgerton has enchanted many viewers, giving birth to a new trend called “Regencycore.” As the term already suggests, this new aesthetic is inspired by the outfits worn by the wealthy society of Regency Era England. With no surprise, Bridgerton’s fans, also known as “The Tons,” have been purchasing many new clothing items in order to recreate the Bridgerton fantasy. For instance, it has been found that, soon after the airing of the show, the sales for corsets and empire-waist dresses have increased drastically. I wouldn’t be too surprised if we started seeing this kind of aesthetic on the runways of 2021.
I also enjoyed the music in Bridgerton—a lot. I like it so much that I am listening to its soundtrack, composed by Kris Bowers, right now, while writing the review. I especially encourage you to check out “What Women Do Best,” if you want to listen to something energetic and with a touch of drama to it. Set in the 1800s, the show’s melodies are very orchestral, characterized by the prevalence of the violin. I found it quite effective because it added to each scene a dramatic nuance that accentuates the characters’ feelings. But I didn’t just appreciate the non-diegetic soundtrack (the music that the characters can’t actually hear). As mentioned before, a great part of Bridgerton takes place during balls where some music is, by default, always playing. If we tune in and pay attention to it, we can notice that the songs used are very well-known in the modern day. For instance, Bridgerton included classical renditions of modern songs, such as Bad guy by Billie Eilish, or Thank u, next by Ariana Grande. Some of you might worry that these songs could ruin the historical fantasy and make you jump in the modern era, but I can assure you this is not the case. I actually hadn’t notice it for the longest time and, when I did, it just made me laugh.
Even though the costumes and the music are, in my opinion, outstanding, they are not enough to justify the poor choices in the plotline of the show. Bridgerton mainly revolves on the themes of love, honor, and family, which is not necessarily a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that the latter are proposed to the viewer in a way that has already been done by many. The show relies a lot on cliches, which is probably the thing that annoyed me the most. One of them can be seen in the juxtaposition of the elder Bridgerton sisters. On the one hand, there’s Daphne, who embodies femininity and perfection. On the other hand, there’s Eloise who is very rebellious and constantly looking for emancipation. This kind of contrast is well balanced, but it doesn’t really seem to lead anywhere. Another thing about Daphne and Eloise is that they make the importance of female empowerment and the question of the women role in society play a central role in the show, which I appreciate. However, I believe that the way this topic is introduced in the dialogues is quite forced and unnatural.
I also had a problem with some of the characters, which I feel like were created just to serve a purpose, such as Queen Charlotte. She had the potential to be a very interesting character but was left very under-developed. The Queen plays an important role in Bridgerton because she is essential to Daphne’s storyline and her chance to find a husband. However, that’s all she is. The audience gets very little background of her life, which leaves many questions unanswered regarding her decision-making process. One thing that I enjoyed about Queen Charlotte is that the actress who played her is a woman of color. Of course, this element is not historically accurate, but it gives the chance for the cast to be more racially diverse, which is something common in the productions of Shonda Rhimes. Ultimately, the premise of this choice was good but didn’t go as far as it could have.
If you’ve heard about Bridgerton, or if you’ve already seen it, then there is a good chance that you were impressed by the amount of sexuality displayed in the show. I have to admit that it was too much for my taste, but it was definitely some high-quality content. By that I mean that all intimate scenes were very sincere and realistic. I thought that Daphne’s journey to discover her own sexuality thanks to Simon was very interesting and well-developed. Of course, it wasn’t easy for the actors to portray this level of intimacy on screen. That’s why Bridgerton’s producers, Shonda Rhymes, Chris Van Dusen, and Sarah Dollard, hired an intimacy coordinator, Lizzy Talbot, in order to help the actors at a psychological, as well as physical, level. As a matter of fact, all sex scenes were fully choreographed, just as they did for fight scenes. I was also very impressed by the way that the actors were able to create sexual tension especially at the beginning, when they hadn’t declared their love for each other yet. This sexual tension was the show’s greatest asset. However, it becomes frivolous throughout the later episodes.
Flaws of the Show (Beware of spoilers!)
Unfortunately—and here is a spoiler alert—after the marriage between Daphne and Simon takes place, the whole show seems to have a downfall, leading to an anti-climactic ending. I am referring to the reveal of Lady Whistledown’s true identity, which seemed to happen out of nowhere in a very flat way. I don’t understand this choice, considering that we already know that more seasons of Bridgerton are going to come out. The writer of the show, Chris Van Dusen, could have easily kept this detail a secret to make the audience eager to know what is going to happen next.
However, the exposé of Lady Whistledown is not my biggest issue with the ending. I am more concerned about the fact that the show seems to support behavior that is simply unacceptable. I am referring to the very well-known rape scene, performed by Daphne on Simon, after her discovery that Simon could physically have children but didn’t want to have them. Everything is wrong with what happened in that scene, but the worst thing is that the act is never acknowledged as rape in the show, as if it is acceptable for a woman to sexually assault a man. Moreover, I can’t get over the fact that, in the end, Daphne gets what she wanted from the beginning— a child. This kind of resolution supports a kind of relationship in which one partner (Simon, the victim) must give up something to make the other happy (Daphne, the perpetrator). Instead, I would have loved to have seen Daphne and Simon find a compromise and still be happy without necessarily the presence of a child.
Despite its flaws, Bridgerton is still an enjoyable show to watch. It is entertaining and not too long to be time consuming. Is it the best show on Netflix? Probably not. Am I going to watch the upcoming season? We’ll see about that. For what it’s worth, I don’t regret watching Bridgerton, but it won’t end up in my top list.