‘Bridgerton’ evaluation: A horny, frothy escapist romance from Netflix

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Despite a riotous pile-up of clichés and laughable chemistry between the leads, the period drama makes for addictive viewing

What a bodice ripper of a show this is! Amidst Sartre, Camus and existentialism, in university, one also deigned to read romances — strictly to sneer at them of course. Between reading about Camus confusion of the day on which his mother died and Sartre’s nauseous meditation on a hand, one would spend time with rakish Brad or Rad and a swooning miss.

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Bridgerton, set in an alternate Regency Era, brings to mind all those delicate ladies and tall, dark and handsome men with much energetic coupling. Being an alternate history, King George III’s Queen Charlotte, is a woman of colour and people of colour have taken their places in the highest ranks of society.

While the Regency Era was a time of invention, culture and elegance, there was another London, the seamy underbelly, which teamed with every sort of inequity and vice. However, Bridgerton concerns itself mainly with the loves and lives of the eight rich and powerful Bridgerton siblings. When Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), makes her debut in society, the Queen (Golda Rosheuvel), singles her out as a “diamond of the first water”. That should have had suitors beating a path to Daphne’s door, but her elder brother, the Viscount Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), feels none of them are good enough for his sister.

In another stately home, the Baroness Portia Featherington (Polly Walker) has to find suitable boys for her three daughters Prudence (Bessie Carter), Philipa (Harriet Cains), and Penelope (Nicola Coughlan). That her husband, Archibald (Ben Miller), foists a distant cousin, Marina (Ruby Barker), on the family makes matters even more difficult, especially as Marina seems to be getting all the suitors and filling up her dance card.

Bridgerton

  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 8
  • Run time: 57 to 72 minutes
  • Creator: Chris Van Dusen
  • Starring: Adjoa Andoh, Jonathan Bailey, Ruby Barker, Sabrina Bartlett, Harriet Cains, Bessie Carter, Nicola Coughlan, Phoebe Dynevor, Ruth Gemmell, Claudia Jessie, Ben Miller, Luke Newton, Regé-Jean Page, Golda Rosheuvel, Luke Thompson, Polly Walker, Julie Andrews
  • Storyline: The Duke of Hastings and pretty Miss Bridgerton play out their passionate love story amidst the school of scandal in an alternative Regency England

Into this overwrought, fluttering breathy world, storms Simon Basset, the newly made Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). This most eligible of bachelors is a renowned rake, who has sworn never to marry. Simon and Daphne pretend to be courting just to keep the marriage-mad mamas off Simon’s back and to improve Daphne’s prospects and what do you know, the two develop feelings for each other.

The Regency Era was also the time of steam printing, which ensured the mass production and distribution of printed matter. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, the year Bridgerton is also set. All the scandalous events of the Ton (Britain’s high society) are chronicled in a paper by Lady Whistledown (narrated by Julie Andrews).

The second Bridgerton daughter, Eloise (Claudia Jessie) becomes obsessed with uncovering her identity — which is revealed rather unconvincingly in the final episode. Lady Danbury, (Adjoa Andoh) Simon’s mentor, and the dressmaker Madame Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale) French by way of London, are two of her suspects.

Despite a riotous pile-up of clichés and zero chemistry between the leads, Bridgerton is addictive viewing. One is reminded of the Mills & Boon and other frothy romances that were roundly cursed but devoured nevertheless.

Everything is pretty — not gloriously decadent or heartbreakingly lovely, just bland, pink and pretty. Women’s rights, taxation, farmers woes are all spoken of in passing while the focus remains on bosom-busting corsets. Everything from Rebecca to countless semi-erotic novels are referenced, even as Simon gives basic sex-ed to Daphne.

The clothes are lovely — wonder if we will see a renaissance of Regency style necks and hems thanks to the show. The cast don’t have much to do apart from parade in all their finery, flash their eyes and sigh tremulously (how many times does that word come up in the subtitles!) at appropriate moments.

Based on the first of Julia Quinn’s eight Bridgerton novels, the show can go on for many more seasons. With Daphne and Simon’s story satisfactorily concluded in the finale, the following seasons could focus on the other siblings—there is the artistic second son Benedict (Luke Thompson), and good man Colin (Luke Newton), the third son, setting off for Greece to mend his broken heart. There is Anthony who has to let go of his hopeless passion for opera singer Siena (Sabrina Bartlett).

All is jolly and never mind the pandemic, as long as we can delve into the many scandals of a different 1813.

Bridgerton is currently streaming on Netflix

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