This is a spoiler free review of Netflix’s Bridgerton which hits Netflix on Christmas Day.
The worlds of period dramas are often filled with repression, tragedy, and straight white people. But Shonda Rhimes’ new Regency romance, Bridgerton, on Netflix aims to change all that. Although the series still falls into a fair few tropes and traps in regards to its mission of inclusivity, the delightful cast, smart script, and stunning costuming make this a truly lovely festive binge watch.
Set in the upper echelons of London society during the 1800s, Bridgerton is a glittering high-budget romance the likes of which prestige TV has never seen. The romance is key here because the show is adapted from Julia Quinn’s beloved series of novels. In that way, this makes Bridgerton unlike any other period drama you’ve seen. While drama and even a little tragedy come into the plot, this is a love story. In fact, it’s multiple love stories woven throughout London’s cobblestone streets, the balls, and sitting rooms of the ton—Britain’s high society during the late Regency era.
At the center of it all are the Bridgertons. Led by their caring mother Violet (Ruth Gemmell), the huge family consists of eight children named alphabetically: Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), Benedict (Luke Thompson), Colin (Luke Newton), Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), Eloise (Claudia Jessie), Francesca (Ruby Stokes), Gregory (Will Tilston), and Hyacinth (Florence Hunt). The series mostly focuses on Daphne and her entanglements with the rakish Duke Simon Bassett of Hastings (Regè-Jean Page). All of the children could play a larger part in future seasons, as the book series the show is based on follows Daphne’s siblings as they embark on life and love.
Back to that Duke, though. Page is an absolute delight as the conflicted and cranky Simon. He’s handsome, charming, and utterly unforgettable. That all makes it even easier to believe the his and Daphne’s faux-courtship scheme may not go exactly to plan. Oh yes, fanfic fans, Bridgerton is based around one of the oldest tropes out there: the classic fake dating plot. See, Daphne wants to seem desirable to London’s bachelors and the Duke wants everyone to leave him alone, so they come up with a plan. If they court each other, Daphne will be the talk of the town while the Duke will seem to be taken and no longer be pursued. Sounds simple enough.
If you’ve ever visited fanfic hub AO3, you’ll likely know how that turns out. But we won’t spoil that secret. What we can gush about is how great the pair are together. They’re a flawed and fantastical coupling you can root for, equally frustrating and fraught with sexual chemistry. Page feels like the kind of leading man we desperately need but don’t deserve. And Dynevor imbues Daphne with a heady mix of naivety and curiosity which is key to her larger journey.. The rest of the ensemble cast is equally as enchanting. Overall, Bridgerton is a total delight. But that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect show.
For a series so clearly interested in upending our expectations of what a period series should look like—and rightfully so—Bridgerton still falls into some disappointing tropes. The most clearly dreadful and cruel character is a dark-skinned Black person. Light-skinned Black women feature prominently here, but dark-skinned Black women don’t have roles as varied. The hilarious and sweet fat character has an arc defined by jealousy. Asian actors appear in the series but barely any have speaking roles and none feature in the core cast. While Bridgerton does a lot better than most period shows, the show still has a lot of work to be done. It would be amazing to see that evolution happen in the inevitable second season.
But we’re able to critique the things we enjoy and there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. This is peak “how the other half live” TV. The inhabitants of Bridgerton are predominantly part of the aristocracy. You get all the balls, incredible costumes, and ostentatious glamour that you’d expect from a period piece. There’s some good Upstairs Downstairs style drama too as we get to meet those who serve and struggle against the elite. Still, one of Bridgerton’s biggest achievements is how easy it is to watch. There’s never a dull moment, but it doesn’t feel too urgent or stressful. The shiny and picturesque Bridgerton offers up the kind of relaxing yet engaging viewing that we all need.