Merry Christmas from the Overthinker and regency London! Netflix put up a new series on Christmas morning. As in yesterday morning. And I have watched it all. That should tell you everything you need to know about its quality and my obsession. But let me start with the shortest possible summary of all that is Bridgerton:
Now that should tell you all you need to know really – go watch it, it’s romance at its best.
It is a Netflix production but produced in association with Shondaland Media which is of course the company of Executive producer and television series trailblazer and diversity icon Shonda Rhimes who is best known for Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. The book it is based on is by Julia Quinn and called Bridgerton – the Duke and I. I have no trouble believing that it is one of those with a buff guy in a pirate loose white shirt brooding on the cover. It is the kick off of a bestselling series all about the fate of the Bridgerton family and I sure hope the series will get many subsequent seasons with all this base material!
I didn’t know most of the actors but I believe most are British. To drop the few names/faces I did recognize immediately: Every Potterheads childhood crush Cormac McLaggen aka Freddie Stroma is an actual Prussian Prince – which suits him very well of course – and you can frequently hear the voice of Mary Poppins and the Queen of Genovia herself, Julie Andrews.
I feel like binge watching all 8 of the hour-long episodes should not have fitted into a festive Christmas day but I can report that lounging on the couch in my Christmas sweatpants with a Cinnamon candle burning and a snowstorm raging outside I felt perfectly happy. And I have to thank the dreadful virus and subsequent 9pm curfew in my area for having enough time after a small, safe family gathering to finish the season. I am also terribly sorry if my English has gotten a bit more British than usual from watching this much British television in one go. But then again, that might only be the voice in my head that’s temporarily recalibrated to British English. I also have to apologize in advance for possibly using words wrong, I’m not big on British history and era names, I feel like calling it all regency could possibly fit so that’s what I’m going to do.
With all of these infos and disclaimers in place, let’s finally get into the plot, storyline and characters. As always, I will keep it pretty spoiler-free until we get to the end where I will warn you like very adamantly.
The name of the series – Bridgerton – is also the name of the aristocratic London family whose fortunes are the main focus of it. We get thrown into the social scene of the upper class at the beginning of the social season where girls who have come of age are presented to possible suitors as debutantes ready to be married off in the most beneficial matches. Of course, in those times, much of the marrying market relied on maximizing and keeping up wealth and status – and on the beauty of a girl. The breakout star of the debutante season is thus the most beautiful of all – Daphne Bridgerton. But with her father dead and her protective older brother in charge of family and title, the season isn’t off to the smoothest start and she soon fears that she might not get a match as desirable as she ought to have.
And then there is the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset – London’s most eligible bachelor who has vowed never to marry but gets hounded by mothers anyway. The two form an unlikely alliance and a whirlwind is set off. Honestly, anything more I could say on this main storyline would be a spoiler but let me tell you: the chemistry! After a month of binging any and all Christmas romance movie, it was great to see some good acting and truly sizzling chemistry for once.
(I will note that I exempt The Holiday from this assessment of Christmas movies in general as it is a true masterpiece with tons of chemistry and great acting all around. I have also not watched Love Actually this year as I simply don’t like it. Try and come for me on that account, I will destroy you with my arguments.)
Anyhow, there are tons of issues of course and we don’t only get to see Daphne’s story unfold but also those of her three brothers and their dating lives, her sister and some other families in their circle who have sons and daughters of the same age. We also get to know the reigning Queen (who is a woman of color!), the most handsome Prussian Prince, a boxer, an opera singer and other illustrious characters that all come with their own stories and problems. It is a big cast and a big web of more or less interwoven storylines that most aspects of life in the upper class of those times are touched upon. And while the basis of the series is very much regency London with all that’s posh, proper and misogynistic about it, the series is very much a feminist and inclusive manifest that doesn’t feel dated or out of place in today’s more sensible times.
Of course its infuriating how some of the men in the series order women around and how they are frequently reduced to their beauty and proficiency in needlework. But it is counterbalanced by showing the competence of women in their different ways – leading households, reigning the country, and yes some scheming and such thing – and the incompetence of men in matters that they are not taught because they are either just expected or not deemed necessary to learn about.
Daphne and the Duke as well as many of the other characters go through very tangible yet believable character arcs as well, shedding their preconceived notions about their place in society, coming of age in different ways or letting love change them. Its truly a joy to see so many characters that are so well rounded – nobody is a two dimensional hero or villain in this story. Well, maybe the Prince is a bit too perfect, but hey, it’s Prince Cormac McLaggen, what else could he be?
I feel like I should definitely mention that a big part of the show – much bigger than my summary might lead you to believe – are actually the stories of a whole array of strong women. All in all, the series has so many strong, independent women that are making their own ways in society even in times that limit their rights and standing so much. To tell you more about each of them would be revealing too much but I can tell you that without these women and their small and big feats, nothing would ever get done in this storyline. No matter what the men would like to believe.
Of course, the biggest gimmick of the show is the literal Gossip Girl, voiced by Julie Andrews. An elusive columnist who seems to be in on all of the towns’ secrets and publishes them anonymously, setting the fragile social constructs spinning out of control on more than one occasion. Sadly, Julie Andrews never says XOXO Gossip Girl but we all know that that is the essence of the pseudonym Lady Whistledown and the anonymous voice behind it. It’s a gimmick and it’s not the most innovative but it’s also fun to have in those times where everyone is basically on the same page just from reading a pamphlet – no internet needed.
Other than the disruptions by Lady Whistledown, most of the plot points come from the problems of the times, and are sometimes wild to our understandings but very believable in context: A ladies honor and worth is based on purity and beauty, communication is made difficult by societal standards and a lack of fast communication routes and the aristocracy is based on a very complex construct of wealth, legacies and titles that is extremely fragile. Of course, all historic accuracy goes out the window in the best way possible with the wonderful inclusivity and representation of different ethnicities in London society.
It is truly a joy to see all kinds of ethnicities being part of the aristocracy – and by the time it briefly becomes a point of discussion midway through the season, you’ve already forgotten that it could ever be different in a period series. Sadly, with all the inclusion and diversity, fat shaming is still very real and present with one of the bigger – in screen time as well as size – supporting characters and I wonder if that was truly necessary.
But then again, corsets and their effects are very straight forward – they make waists smaller as that is desirable. And ditching the fashions would not have been an option for the series as the costumes play such an important part in it. And the costumes – especially the dresses of the debutantes and their mothers, are truly spectacular. I don’t know much about historical dresses but the corsets and empire waists seemed very on point to me – maybe some of the more vibrant colors and obvious costume jewelry was creative license but it all made sense in context and gave the many, many balls and soirees a kaleidoscopic effect, with beading and feathers sparkling and glittering, hair piled high and necks encrusted with stones of all colors. Just as fantastically beautiful as the costumes are the settings in the various residences, castles, palaces and gardens – all perfectly maintained and decorated by an army of staff, I’m sure.
But the series is not only a sugary sweet visual masterpiece – even the soundtrack is fantastic and fitting – It’s all classical instruments and a lot of songs are written especially for the show but they are frequently interspersed by pop songs reinterpreted as classical pieces. I am really not good with anything musical but even I recognized some songs from the likes of Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift. The overall effect is one of sounding very classical and posh while also feeling very familiar and current. It fits the vibe of the show – which is much the same combination of classical and current – perfectly.
All together, I think you can tell that I loved the series as whole – from the main characters and their chemistry to the underlying themes and the visual execution. I can only hope that more people share my view and it gets renewed for a second season. It sure made my Christmas more special and I keep the thought of it wrapped around me like a cozy blanket.
Now that you know exactly what to expect from this very biased point of view, let me tell you, that the series is obviously available on Netflix and you can watch the trailer HERE.
Please continue below for a bit more summary and commentary full of spoilers!
SPOILER WARNING! SPOILERS INCOMING! DO NOT KEEP READING IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS!
Finally, I can talk freely about the plot. I don’t always need a spoiler section and I can often commit to leaving out any spoilers altogether but not this time, my friends. I am simply obsessed with Daphne and the Duke. Their relationship and their growth together is simply too good not to mention. They fall in love so beautifully and so naturally, it’s bursting with chemistry. I really liked how they have their issues – big and small, made from outside pressure or their own pasts and challenges – but can’t deny their feelings for long and work for their story to continue simply because they can’t choose not to. It’s beautifully done and pretty much addictive.
I’m also very fond of Daphne’s mother and her wisdoms and challenges that come from a life lived as the proper wife of someone who has passed on too soon and who was actually her great love – a rarity in those times. She is not perfect or all-knowing but strong and kind in her own ways and it’s heartwarming to see.
Storylines like Ms Thompson and her unborn child are also so much more than anecdotal – it was heartbreaking but captivating to see such a young girl struggle with making these hard decisions with tons of unknown variables over and over again, trying to simply get out of a terrifying situation.
I could probably go on and on about the many small storylines and different characters, I really do like them all, they make a pretty cohesive picture of the lives in that particular fictional society.