Produced by Shonda Rhimes as her first Netflix Original debut, Bridgerton is based on a series of best-selling historical romance novels by Julia Quinn. Set in the Regency era, at the height of London’s aristocratic society, Bridgerton tracks the lives and loves of the sprawling Bridgerton clan.
Bridgerton is an amalgamation –part Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and part class snobbery (Downton Abbey).– Queen Charlotte (played with astringent haughtiness by Gilda Rosheuvel) is black. So too is the highly sought after Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). The Duke, who appears during the debutante season, leaves a string of “cat fights” in his wake. This is compounded by mothers frantically arranging introductions of their daughters to society’s most eligible bachelors. And no bachelor is more desired than the Duke. And no debutante, at least at first, is quite as flawless as Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), whom Queen Charlotte has declared “the diamond of the season”. Of course, the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton are repulsed by each other’s presence at the first debutante ball, only to very slowly fall in love.
The intrigue of romance, arranged marriage, and fortune-hunting in social circles rivals Macchiavelli in strategy and ruthlessness in a highly entertaining story. There are unwanted pregnancies, mistresses, highly desired but forbidden pregnancies, fortunes lost and won. There is even a gossip-sheet, a daily newsletter by an unidentified Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) to overlay mystery on the sumptuous balls and family secrets. A word of scandal in Lady Whistledown’s newsletter can ruin the reputation of any debutante or suitor in a matter of minutes. With a lemming mentality, the once “diamond of the season” becomes tarnished, polished, and then tarnished again by pure whim and schadenfreude by those who compete with her.
The identity of Lady Whistledown, mastermind of all this turmoil, is revealed in the very last scene and there were many red herrings skillfully crafted.
Bridgerton is at its best when it is a commentary on marriage, its pitfalls, and the expectation imposed on women to wed. Imagine 1813 London with an ethnically diverse aristocracy who thrives in high society, focused on marriage and family, and maintaining high social status. “Downton Abbey” in living color?
Bridgerton‘s early 1800s London is a subtle, ironic, and humorous depiction of social mobility, gender, and ethnic limitations in a caste system. It is highly original and overdue in casting diversity to remind the viewer that overt themes of discrimination are unnecessary. Now it is time for the industry to step forward and help us move forward.
Groundbreaking and inspirational, I hope we will see more of this nonconventional casting in the future. Forget about historical accuracy, this is not a documentary. It is fiction and a charming one at that. A beautiful and reimagined 19th century. The actors are excellent and the diversity feels right.
Note: In a brilliant stroke of writing, Shonda Rhimes places the story during the marriage of (Mad) King George III and Queen Charlotte. There has been some historical researth that Queen Charlotte may have had African ancestry. Bridgerton accepts it as fact, imagining that the queen grants titles and land to other people of color.
Availability: Netflix streaming