As the creator of hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda Rhimes knows what exactly viewers want to see.
Her big-budget period drama Bridgerton soon lands on Netflix with the promise to revolutionise the genre, and boy does it deliver.
Based on American author Julia Quinn’s bestselling novels, the show transports us to 19th century London at the start of high society’s social season.
Young debutante Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) is one of many being at court in the hope that they catch the eye of an eligible bachelor and end the season with a marriage proposal.
With it being Daphne’s first season, she’s more than prepared to do what it takes to dazzle the rest of the society – known as the ‘ton’. Thanks to her overprotective brother, her perfectly laid out plans are quickly ruined and suitors aren’t as quick to come calling.
Matters are further complicated when the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced by Dame Julie Andrews) tells the entire ton about Daphne’s romantic struggles in her ‘gossip column’ society papers.
In fact, this mystery whistle-blower shares all the secrets worth knowing in her scandal sheets – including the return of playboy Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), the Duke of Hastings, who instantly finds himself being hunted down by ambitious young women and their mothers who are desperate to get him to propose.
Considering the Duke has no desire to ever marry, he soon comes up with a plan that would help himself and Daphne get what they want from the season. They’ll fake a budding romance so that Daphne becomes the girl everyone wants to steal from a Duke while he’ll be able to escape the marriage hungry ton.
The show is a faithful adaptation of books written by Jane Austen superfan Quinn, who added a modern voice to the era with incredible success. The Netflix series follows suit and then some, with a sex-positive approach that tackles hot topics such as feminism, toxic masculinity, women owning their sexuality within the lense of the Regency realm.
Plenty has been said about the show’s colour blind casting (a practise that is in effect on all Shondaland productions), however, it would be better to call it colour conscious casting.
Indeed, the choice to have Guyana-born Golda Rosheuval as Queen Charlotte is quite fitting seeing as some historians claim she was the first biracial queen.
Rosheuval is a fun watch as the character embodies so much of what many assume about royalty in those days – rich, bored, and incredibly spoilt. Yet, even the Queen has more to her story than initially meets the eye.
The inclusion of a black queen is used to explain how the likes Lady Danbury (played by the delightful Adjoa Andoh, who has a blast as the resident grand dame) and the Duke have come to their fortunes in this version on 19th century London.
At the end of the day when it comes to Shondaland shows, the best actors are picked for the job and viewers will be grateful for the fact when they get the chance to enjoy Page’s turn as the Duke.
Handsome, charming, and incredibly brooding in a mix between Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass, the actor instantly makes his mark as Simon Basset.
He does a great job endearing the audience to a character who often frustrates thanks to his stubborn attitude and intense daddy issues. Elsewhere, his chemistry with co-star Dynevor is electric as their characters playfully banter with each other.
Their feisty clashes and lingering gazes make for infectious viewing as they develop a delightful bond that any romance fan will see coming from a mile away.
Dynevor – the daughter of Coronation Street actress Sally Dynevor – is perfectly perfect cast as the ‘diamond’ of the season, conveying her character’s frustrations as she tries to find love and happiness within the constraints of society.
Series creator Chris Van Dusen has said the first season could be titled The Education of Daphne Bridgerton thanks to the journey taken by her character and the actress conveys the entire range of emotions with a genuine and relatable performance.
At a time where women weren’t told a thing about sex until their wedding – while men had their fun with many mistresses – the series touches on the importance of female ownership of their pleasure and satisfaction.
But you must be warned, Dear Reader, things get extremely steamy indeed. Within the first 15 minutes, we see Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) having sex up against a tree with his lover – and things only get more racy with each episode that follows.
Taking cues from its romance novel roots (and following Shondaland’s preference for the female gaze), the sex scenes are sensual, fun, and are sure to leave many feeling rather flushed.
But it is important to note that they also play a large part in the progression of the characters rather than just included to titillate viewers. The raunchiness of some scenes aren’t the only big changes that might surprise period drama fans.
The Regency era has never looked so vibrant thanks to the decision to deliberately do away with bonnets and the usual pale and muted tones. Instead the cast showcase a large number of embellished ball gowns, feathered headdresses, and envy-inducing bling.
Viewers will be itching to join the fun on the dancefloor during the extravagant dance sequences as classical arrangements of modern songs such as Girls Like You by Maroon 5 and Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift bring the balls to life for today’s audience.
Though Simon and Daphne are the central story, the cast is full of many standout performances such as Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope Featherington and her BFF Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) that one can only hope we get to see all their stories play out in many more seasons to come.
Then the cherry on top of this delectable adaptation comes in the form of Dame Julie Andrews’ scathing narration as Lady Whistledown.
Gossip Girl has nothing on this Regency secret whisperer as she guides viewers through all the drama with her withering commentary. Yes, the identity is revealed to the audience at some point in the series.
Bridgerton is the perfect Christmas day gift in a year when viewers need romance and distraction more than ever.
Sharp and witty dialogue mixed with the ostentatious glamour people love about a costume drama makes this a treat for fans of the genre and those new to this world.
Much like the best romance reads, it’s sexy, playful, and a whole lot of fun. An indulgent treat that will leave you begging for me – just keep a cool drink at hand for the moments when you might need to cool down.
A period drama highlighting modern-day sensibilities, it says as much about our own world today as it does about the issues of the time.
Bridgerton is available to stream on Netflix from Christmas Day.
Credit: Original article published here.