During the lockdown and social distancing measures of 2020, many people turned to streaming services such as Disney+, Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime, alongside traditional television and YouTube, to keep themselves entertained over the course of the year. With variants of these measures set to continue for the foreseeable future, TV shows and films will continue to provide a form of escapism by many. One such show that is receiving rave reviews across the world is the recently released “Bridgerton”, which provides a new spin on period drama format that has been much loved for generations.
Released on Christmas Day 2020, the IMBD description for “Bridgerton” states: “Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family.” The show is based on the Bridgerton family book series by Julia Quinn, which includes novels such as “The Duke and I”, “A Viscount Who Loved Me” and “An Offer From A Gentleman”.
Within the show we are thrown into the lives of a number of aristocratic families in England as they introduce their daughters to society and try to match them with prospective suitors from other illustrious families. The title family, the Bridgertons, is made up of the mother Lady Violet Bridgerton, played by Ruth Gemmell, and her six children. One character that is focused upon in the series is her eldest daughter Daphne Bridgerton, played by Phoebe Dynevor, who makes her society debut and is seeking a suitable husband throughout the series. She is supported in this endeavour by her eldest brother Anthony Bridgerton, played by Jonathan Bailey.
Other families introduced in the series include the Featheringtons; Portia Featherington, played by Polly Walker, Lord Featherington, played by Ben Miller, and their three daughters. Other characters in the series include Marina Thompson, played by Ruby Barker, Simon Bassett (The Duke of Hastings), played by Regé-Jean Page, and Queen Charlotte, played by Golda Rosheuvel.
Other particularly familiar faces also have parts within the series including much-loved “Mary Poppins” and “Sound of Music” actress Julie Andrews, who plays Lady Whistledown. Lady Whistledown acts as an almost narrator for the series as she is a writer publishing anonymous social commentary well read by the other characters. Former “Doctor Who” actress Adjoa Andoh appears as Lady Danbury and “Derry Girls” actress Nicola Coughlan appears as Penelope Featherington.
A particularly interesting modern twist within the show is the classical versions of well known pop songs that feature during poignant ball scenes. Recognizable tunes include Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next”, Billie Elish’s “Bad Guy” and “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift.
Since its release the six part series with hour long episodes has been watched across the world. The official Netflix Queue Twitter account tweeted: “In its first four weeks, Bridgerton is projected to court more than 63 million households, which would make it Netflix’s fifth biggest original series launched to date”. Actor Coughlan has shared a number of screenshots on her twitter feed that show Bridgerton has reached the “top 10 today” on Netflix in a wide array of countries such as Ireland, UK, US, Canada, Germany, Portugal, Nigeria and Pakistan since release. Speculation is currently mounting as to whether there will be a second series of the series. It is clear that it is drawing a large audience and there are a number of books within Quinn’s series that could be drawn upon.
In The Guardian Poppy Noor highlighted how period dramas traditionally lack diversity in their cast, whereas Bridgerton, offers some increased representation in the genre, although it has still received some criticism in this regard. She wrote: “Bridgerton is watchable if ultimately predictable. If it were another show, I wouldn’t write about it. But to see people like me allowed to star in a genre that is usually cordoned off tricked me into exploring a world I never get to see on screen. I am not landed gentry or nobility, but I am a person of colour, and I have never, until this year, seen myself in a period drama (hats off to The Great, also). Perhaps the novelty will wear off, but to find novelty on TV in your 30s is an unadulterated joy.”
Also for The Guardian, Lanre Bakare wrote: “I don’t think I will be reaching for the Pride and Prejudice VHS any time soon, but Bridgerton has made me – and probably thousands of others – reconsider what a costume drama can be.”
Period dramas are certainly something that has been revisited by actors, writers and producers across generations to the delight of many. ITV’s Downton Abbey has seen much success since it launched in 2010, with six series’ and a film to date. Similarly, many classic novels have been made into films and TV specials. Jane Austin’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice has been brought to the screen multiple times including a 2005 film starring Keira Knightly and Matthew McFadyen, and 1995 BBC series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
It is clear the Bridgerton has drawn in a huge audience from across the world and perhaps brought the period drama to a whole new audience.