Length: 8 x episodes (60 minutes each)
Forming romantic relationships in the modern age can be a nightmarish rollercoaster of sweaty-palmed humiliation, soul-wrenchingly tedious dates and a slow slog of dire diminishing returns.
Dating profile pictures all too rarely match the person in question, you’ll have the same boring conversations over and over and sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll live through the dawning horror of realising the person sitting across the table from you is a proud anti-vaxxer (long story, don’t ask).
Point is, finding a significant other in 2020 is often a wretched experience.
Consider, then, how much worse it was for the poor people of Regency-era England, when social status was of the utmost importance and one’s fate was often left to the whims of vicious, capricious aristocracy.
Such is the premise of Netflix’s romantic drama, Bridgerton, a swoony bodice-ripper that is as frothy as you’d expect from producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), but actually manages to be smarter than it first appears.
Bridgerton focuses, naturally enough, on the lives and loves of the Bridgerton family. It’s particularly concerned with young Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), who makes a spectacular social debut, catching the eye of Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), which is the Regency era equivalent of getting a retweet from Beyoncé.
The Bridgerton boys, particularly the dishy Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), are swanning about polite society like a ye olde version of the Jonas Brothers, much to the chagrin of their mum, Lady Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). She’d rather have them settle down with nice, respectable ladies, you see, something none of them seem particularly keen to do.
Speaking of sexy wedding-dodgers, Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page) has come to town and is setting everyone’s hearts and loins aquiver. Everyone, that is, except Daphne who, frankly, thinks he’s a bit of a wanker.
However, when the mismatched pair concoct a plan that will keep Simon out of the wedding chapel and get Daphne very much in it (with the right bloke of her choosing) the meat and potatoes of Bridgerton becomes clear, and it’s a mostly tasty meal.
Tying the whole show together, Lebowski rug style, are the scandalous writings of Lady Whistledown (voiced to perfection by Julie Andrews!) who is basically the Gossip Girl of the day. Anonymous and scandalous, Whistledown’s words influence everyone, including royalty, making her pen potentially poisonous. But who is she? And how is she so well informed about everyone else’s business?
Bridgerton is, first and foremost, a lot of fun. Based on the bestselling series of novels by Julia Quinn, it's fast-paced, witty and at times wry and well-observed. Yes, there’s a lot of Regency-style rooting taking place, but it’s done with a light touch, and is more concerned with the social mores of the time rather than endless heaving, sweaty flesh.
Gorgeously shot and well-acted, it also has a pleasing number of people of colour in major roles, which is a rare and laudable thing in these ordinarily tofu-hued yarns.
There’s also some quite clever social commentary, with ladies of the era being terrified of marriage because they believe it causes pregnancy (sex education was, uh, not great back then apparently) and a nice inversion of the helpless female trope, with Daphne decking a handsy potential suitor before Simon can save her.
Sumptuously shot and buzzing with energy, Bridgerton goes down like a bubbling glass of Diet Jane Austen. It also releases on Netflix on Christmas Day which makes it the ideal companion to the lethargic food coma you’ll almost certainly be nursing.
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