As addictive as it is scandalous, Netflix’s new drama “Bridgerton” closed out the platform’s wildly successful 2020 perfectly. With the show’s focus on the complicated love story between the beautiful debutante Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the handsome and flirtatious Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), “Bridgerton” wins its place in the popular romantic dramas of the 21st century list. However, its mishandling of serious themes including sexual assault results in a series that brushes over harsher themes without directly addressing them.
Produced by Shonda Rhimes and adapted from Julia Quinn’s best-selling romance novels, the eight-episode series pulls viewers into a fantastical version of early 19th century London, taking them from one fancy ball to another. The show centers around Daphne, the eldest daughter of the aristocratic Bridgertons, as she enters the competitive marriage market and tries to find a suitable romantic partner.
The beauty of the costumes and the splendor of the palaces are significant elements that contribute to the show’s popularity. Each character’s wardrobe is crafted to fit their personality; the wealth-obsessed Featherington family wears outlandish, bright colors, and the classy Daphne Bridgerton is dressed in elaborate yet modest gowns. Likewise, the elaborate set design transports the audience back to the Victorian era, with striking similarities to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
In tandem with the beautiful costuming and historically accurate set design, yet another winning aspect of “Bridgerton” is the modern pop elements in the soundtrack by Vitamin String Quartet, which performs different versions of modern pop songs, including “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande, “In My Blood” by Shawn Mendes, “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift, “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5 and “bad guy” by Billie Eilish.
The show also emulates certain themes from the popular teenage drama “Gossip Girl.” The mysterious Lady Whistledown in “Bridgerton” is akin to Gossip Girl herself, keeping track of everyone’s secrets and publishing them in a newspaper.
The intrigue of “Bridgerton” does not stop with its similarities to other popular shows and movies. The drama boldly addresses various issues present in society today, including gender bias and classism.
Bridgerton features a diverse cast, with many of the main characters in the show played by non-white actors. From Regé-Jean Page as the leading male character of the drama, to Adjoa Andoh as the sharp-tongued and truth-telling Lady Danbury, the show is notably more diverse than many other Netflix originals. “Bridgerton” addresses the complications of an interracial marriage through Simon and Daphne’s relationship, while simultaneously infusing valuable representation in all aspects of the plot. For example, the powerful yet minor character of Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) provides a notable element of diversity.
Additionally, “Bridgerton” includes a forward-thinking discussion of gender stereotypes present in society. The cultural norms in the drama require young women to marry young men once their debutante season begins, regardless of their own romantic feelings or what they want out of life. The only purpose the girls have is to marry and have children, even if they want a different path for themselves. For example, Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) had dreams of attending university, but her family would not allow her to do so. Instead, they insist she debut in society as her sister did, with the intention of finding a husband.
Furthermore, the women who work and participate in the economy in “Bridgerton” are regarded as lesser than those who sit in the corner and wait to get wed. For instance, Anthony Bridgerton, the eldest son of the Bridgertons, is not allowed to marry the woman he loves simply because she’s an opera singer.
Although the show succeeds in its portrayal of the wrongfulness of gender bias, it occasionally dips into hypocrisy and mishandles crucial themes. The objectification of women becomes disturbing in scenes where viewers witness the miserable situations in which women are left. The scene in which Simon’s mother dies in childbirth as the men aside her cheer with the joy of having a son is particularly irritating, because the loss of life of the woman is brushed over and undervalued. Furthermore, Lady Featherington’s (Polly Walker) tireless efforts to arrange a marriage for pregnant Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) is annoying and distressing in that it fails to acknowledge Marina’s capability to mother without a husband.
The most significant moment in which “Bridgerton” falls short is in its failure to acknowledge a scene in which the main character, Daphne, performs sexual acts on her husband without his consent. Although the inclusion of the scene itself does raise critical discussions surrounding the way sexual assault is perceived, Daphne never faces significant consequences for her actions, and the disturbing scene is ultimately brushed over far too quickly. The event causes nothing more than a ruffle in the central relationship of the show, and it would have been much more effective had the writers forced Daphne to face significant pushback or even social destruction for this act. Where the show could have utilized this opportunity to dispel stereotypes surrounding gender and sexual assault, the writers failed.
Because of its inadequate handling of multiple social issues, “Bridgerton” is by no means a must-watch Netflix original of 2020. However, the secrets, scandals and intriguing costume design make the show incredibly appealing and addictive. The combination of corsets and controversy make “Bridgerton” a show that will be talked about for years and seasons to come.