Bridgerton Review: Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen in this steamy and refreshingly diverse romantic period drama.
Julia Quinn’s popular romance series comes to life in Netflix’s glossy new adaptation from Shondaland. Bridgerton is a fun, witty, if steamy romance with a brooding Duke, a seemingly innocent ingenue, a mysterious gossip columnist as voiced by the legendary Julie Andrews, and a scene-stealing Queen Charlotte played by the brilliant Golda Rosheuvel. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this addictive period drama.
While more explicit than typical Regency Romance dramas, I believe the series is a positive addition to the genre.
The Netflix series follows the eight siblings of the Bridgerton family in Regency London as Daphne Bridgerton debuts into society. However, when her marriage prospects disappear due to her overprotective older brother, Anthony, she turns to Simon, an enigmatic and moody Duke and best friend to her brother Anthony, to help her dilemma.
Together they concoct a plan: If they pretend to court, he will keep away marriageable women as he prefers to remain single (he is a rake, after all). Not to mention his mentor, Lady Danbury, who wants him married – ideally to Daphne.
And Daphne will become more appealing to potential suitors, including a handsome prince. Win-win.
Of course, as the familiar romance trope plays out, the two fall in love with each other. From there, many obstacles get in their way, most notably, themselves.
Meanwhile, Lady Whistledown, an anonymous gossip columnist, rules London society as she reveals secrets only someone on the inside could know. She has the power to help or destroy anyone’s reputation.
One of her biggest fans? The hilarious Queen Charlotte who faithfully reads each newsletter. Part of the premise is the mystery of who Lady Whistledown is. And it’s fun to guess who the elusive Lady Whistledown might be.
Besides the loving Bridgertons (each sibling with a distinct personality), including their sweet mother, another central family is the Featheringtons, a quirky household, including a gambling father, a controlling mother, three daughters, and a distant cousin. Polly Walker plays the mother and dresses her three daughters like Cinderella’s stepsisters – or at least how you imagine they would dress. Poor girls!
Penelope Featherington, a girl of 17, is also out in society and is best friends with Daphne’s clever sister, Eloise. Penelope also just so happens to be in love with Eloise’s brother, Colin, but he only sees her as a friend.
Then there is the stately and kind Lady Danbury, the scene-stealing Queen Charlotte with her telling looks, and more.
What I loved most about this production is the casting. Regé-Jean Page, as the brooding Simon, understands how to play a Byronic Hero well – which is a rare treat as most actors do not understand the archetype.
But he captures the deep voice, intense stares, and moody demeanor to perfection, recalling memorable past performances of Byronic Heroes from actors like Toby Stephens, Timothy Dalton, and Aidan Turner. Page is a romantic leading man to watch out for in future productions.
While the producers cast every part well, my favorite performance goes to Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury. Her compelling performance as Simon’s mentor/godmother type figure will stay with you. She brings her Shakespearean skills to the series, and it shows.
The Lavish Production
Another reason to watch Bridgerton is to see the lavish production. Netflix put a lot of money into this series, and it is magnificent to see. The series is a splendor to behold, from the intricate and extravagant costumes to gorgeous set pieces and even a perfectly choreographed dance routine.
The satirical scripts are also witty and entertaining. My main complaint is that I sometimes felt the show was too explicit when it didn’t always need to be. And sometimes the main characters’ choices annoyed me. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the series, and I look forward to season two. Hopefully, Netflix will adapt the entire series and not cancel it too early.
Period Dramas and Diversity
However, what makes Bridgerton especially significant in the period drama space is that it proves diversity works in the genre. Some may argue that it is historically inaccurate. But I say, so what?
While Bridgerton veers more into fantasy with an alternate version of Regency England, I see no real reason why more period dramas can’t include diversity in the casting.
A film or a TV show is much like a play and can never achieve complete historical accuracy because it is only an interpretation and a reflection of a different time. And it is entertainment, after all, so why does it matter who plays a part?
Sure, historical accuracy has its place, so why not have more of a mix of different types of “period” dramas? There is a difference, I argue, (or at least there should be) between historical drama and period drama. The period drama is often a tad romanticized with an idealized version of the past.
And then when you add into the mix, as is the case with Bridgerton, the romance genre (and not just a movie/show with a love story) with the idealized period setting, it blends even more into fantasy. Casting should reflect that since it’s aspirational after all.
In that way, I found Bridgerton a refreshing watch.
Now, Bridgerton is not a clean period drama by any means. It’s based on a series of steamy romance novels and reflects that. However, I feel Bridgerton is a positive step for more diversity in the period drama genre and a critical step forward for romance in entertainment.
Until recently (around 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians), romance was struggling in entertainment. Where it was not suffering, however, was in publishing. Romance continued to sell, proving there is a large audience for it.
Now, with the success of numerous rom-coms since 2018 as well as romance series such as Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias, A Discovery of Witches, and now Bridgerton, it’s safe to say romance will be around for a long while because Hollywood finally got the memo: Romance sells when done right. And that is fantastic!
Perhaps, in part due to Bridgerton’s phenomenal success, let’s hope we’ll get more adaptations – from classic love stories to romance novels across the spectrum between clean and wholesome to steamy.
I admit I’m not too fond of pornographic content and feel A Discovery of Witches handles steaminess to perfection without needlessly crossing over into vulgarity, which this series does in a couple of scenes. Still, I felt this series was relevant to this site and thought I needed to review it.
Bridgerton is a pure delight from start to finish. It is an entertaining binge-watch full of romance, mystery, fascinating characters, and even a deliciously delightful Julie Andrews narrating the voice of the mysterious Lady Whistledown.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Regency romances and period dramas like Reign, I think you’ll enjoy Bridgerton. Just go in realizing that this is less Austen and more Gossip Girl in a Regency setting with a few explicit scenes.
Content Note: Bridgerton is rated TV-MA for sexuality, brief strong language, and nudity. While the explicit content is not continuous throughout and is certainly not Game of Thrones, it is semi-frequent. Episode six is the most explicit episode, which will ignite questions about consent.
If explicit content makes you uncomfortable, the majority of scenes are easy to fast-forward through. That said, due to the graphic content, this series will not appeal to everyone.
Have you watched Bridgerton? What are your thoughts on this new Netflix series? Do you agree with my review of Bridgerton? Sound off below.
Featured image credit: Netflix
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”