My sister showed up to dinner one night, super excited about a show she had just finished bingeing on (because as a society, watching something bit by bit is just not a trend anymore), which she thought I would really enjoy too. Netflix’s Bridgerton. It had everything she thought I liked- it is a period drama set in the Regency Era, it talks about London society and it’s like a stilted, old-time English version of Gossip Girl. She was right about me enjoying the Regency era and London society but I have never watched Gossip Girl and I don’t intend to. I think Penn Badgley as a stalker on You might be more attractive than Penn Badgley as a gossip columnist or whatever it is he does on Gossip Girl.
I spent a vast part of my teen years doing research on the Regency and Victorian eras (I was a nerd, yes), including the culture and literature. I have read all the Jane Austen books and watched at least one period drama based on all of them. My favourite movie as a teenager was the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters (1999). I would frequent DVD stores in the area to purchase any and all BBC collections of period dramas so that I now have Dickens, Shakespeare, George Eliot, Gaskell, and Oscar Wilde in my house. I know what authentic Regency, Victorian, Elizabethan, and Jacobean period dramas look like- so that when I watched Bridgerton I had a frown on my face for the entirety of the first episode.
First of all, as bad as it was, no one from the royal family would have married a black woman for love and gone on to become King. That the Queen was black was a very modern take on the Regency era. Had the King been in love with a black woman, one out of two things would have happened- 1) she would have been his mistress for life and nothing more, or 2) the King would have married her and then would have had to abdicate the throne. If not, Edward VIII having to abdicate for love was just cruel and unnecessary.
Secondly, that a woman does not know where babies come from until well after her wedding night is a preposterous idea. Society was tolerant back in the day and while ‘a woman’s honour’ may have been a thing, not telling them where babies come from was not a thing. ‘Modesty’ in the name of shaming society for openness about sex only started about a century ago and became even more ‘modest’ in the ’70s. The Regency era had a robust attitude towards sex and we could stand to learn a thing or two from them. Everything was out there, in the open.
Bridgerton is an inauthentic and inaccurate representation of Regency era London, but when it comes to entertainment, I would give it the credit it deserves because the Duke was hella gorgeous. I hate to sound basic, but the reason I spent hours one night bingeing as hard as I did was because the Duke was the thing of beauty that Keats was talking about. Probably not, but you get my point. As a story, I did enjoy Bridgerton for what it was- drama, an insight into matchmaking, and a brilliant way to bring Julie Andrews back into our lives. A friend of mine compared it to another production of Netflix- Indian Matchmaking. He argues that one cannot enjoy Bridgerton but have an issue with Indian Matchmaking because they follow the same concept, with Sima Taparia playing the role of Lady Whistledown.
Authentic or not, though, I did have several mixed emotions after completing the last episode- a feeling of joy for the Duke and Daphne ending up together, no matter how toxic that relationship would have been in real life (how long does a relationship realistically last if the only thing going for the couple is their sex life, and if the couple choose to ignore each other for days on end?); a strange connection with Eloise because I see myself in her, burning up with the desire to do something other than getting married; an unexplained attraction to Jonathan Bailey after seeing him as Anthony Bridgerton (?); sadness over the death of Lord Featherington (there’s like so many spoilers on this post); and validation of my guess about who Lady Whistledown may be. I haven’t read the books so I didn’t know.
I wouldn’t call it quality TV, it doesn’t enrich anyone’s intelligence in any way, there is no commentary on society (except for a brief explanation by Lady Danbury about why black people were suddenly becoming relevant as members of the royal family in a period otherwise known for its societal divides) and some of the clothes do hurt my eyes, but it did entertain.