Bridgerton, Netflix’s newest addictive drama, is when Gossip Girl and Downton Abbey combine to become a salacious affair. The lives of 1813 London’s high society have shaken off the expected gilded etiquette to showcase an even more competitive and deceptive side. Based on the novels by Julia Quinn, the Netflix show adapts the book series and expands it even further into a must-watch drama. With refined costumes, opulent settings, and torrid love affairs, Bridgerton packs a powerful punch!
Bridgerton focuses on the lives of competing wealthy families in London’s high society. Framed around the debut of the Bridgerton family’s eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the series explores several threads of how the Bridgerton children deal with life during the season as debutantes are brought to court. The matches being made, the mind games to build (or destroy) pairings, the secret hook-ups hiding in the shadows, everything is on the table in their pursuit to land a perfect match. Rounding out the stories include the Featheringtons’ growing troubles during the season, Lady Danbury’s (Adjoa Andoh) mission to get the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) engaged, and the Queen’s (Golda Rosheuvel) invested interest in making this an entertaining debutante season.
In addition to the festivities, there is the looming threat of Lady Whistledown, a mysterious writer releasing scandalous articles about London’s wealthy and elite. A various points throughout the season, Lady Whistledown comments about the developments during the parties, events, and “she” plays an important role in how high society views potential scandals. Lady Whistledown is Bridgerton’s version of Gossip Girl (you know you love her, XOXO). Some of Bridgerton’s most shocking revelations and plot developments come at the hands of Lady Whistledown, and uncovering the mysterious writer is a juicy mystery that pulls you in.
One of Bridgerton’s strengths comes from the visual appeal. Bridgerton is designed head-to-toe in period outfits and sets to suit the era of the story. A lot of detail is put into the series to make it feel grand and opulent (I would be shocked at the budget for the series!). And, many modern touches are incorporated that are adapted for the time, like adapting current popular music into orchestral songs for the parties and dances. For example, there’s a beautiful rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” that is used for one of the first dances between Daphne and the Duke of Hastings. These choices feel fresh and add an unconventional spin to the era.
And we can’t talk about Bridgerton without mentioning the salacious sex appeal. Bridgerton incorporates the occasional sex scene and nudity to shake things up and play off the taboo nature within London’s high society. While surprising in parts, the inclusion didn’t feel unnecessary or added for the sheer shock value alone (like with Netflix’s other addictive soap, Tiny Pretty Things). Here, Bridgerton utilizes those uninhibited scenes to reflect how their characters are going against their societal expectations or when they’ve unleashed themselves from their refinement. And when they do, the characters act more primetime soap than daytime.
Though, we need to discuss the controversial scene that happened between Daphne and Simon (the Duke of Hastings) during Episode 6. The episode needs a trigger warning. What Daphne did to Simon in her pursuit of having a child was rape. Regardless of the time period and them already making love, Daphne forced a situation that Simon didn’t consent to and kept going when he asked to stop. Including these scenes makes it tough to watch (especially when not prepared), but since it was included, it opens up the conversation about male rape and the importance of consent. If these happen again in the future, they need warnings beforehand.
Daphne’s story has the most weight and progression; her debutante season affects the surrounding characters, whether it be her family, her friends, or her suitors. The tale of a pair lying about their romantic pursuits to hook in other matches has been done to death in other TV shows/movies (i.e. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), and while the idea is a bit cliché, the chemistry between her and the Duke of Hastings is so powerfully captivating. You can’t help but root for something to develop between them — they’re electric whenever they’re throwing playful barbs at one another. No one compared to their chemistry; their journey is a strong story to follow.
The same goes for Lady Danbury’s involvement. Adjoa Andoh stole the show whenever she was on-screen; she commanded attention and you could tell she had a lot of fun playing the sharp-witted matchmaker. The Queen and the Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) also lived for their roles too – while both are vastly different, they take to debutante season quickly and enjoyably.
I loved the complimentary tales of Daphne’s siblings, Eloise (Claudia Jessie) and Benedict (Luke Thompson). Both wanted to shake off the expectations for their station, but due to the time period, there was a vast difference in what they could get away with. Benedict’s plight was frustrating because he had a lot more leeway to explore the world and become an artist if he wanted to. As the second-born, he could do as he pleased. So, why all the complaining? Eloise, on the other hand, was prevented from exploring the options she wanted to pursue and only got to hunt down Lady Whistledown because of the Queen. If Bridgerton has a second season, it would be interesting to see if she avoids debutante season or if she has to jump into the world due to expectations of being a young woman.
Marina’s (Ruby Barker) tale is the most polarizing one. Her desperation drove her to explore options out of fear and make decisions that went against her character. The many turns of reuniting with her distant lover/the secret pregnancy will keep you on your toes, but the ending won’t be wrapped up in a satisfying bow. You’ll either support her final decision or be indifferent after some of the choices she made along the way. Plus, her story is the one that felt the most complete by the end of the season; it will be shocking if she returns.
Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) — the Viscount Bridgerton — is the most frustrating character and story on Bridgerton Season 1! Many of his actions come from a self-obsessed and egotistical “poor me” mindset, regardless of how it affects everyone else. For most of the season, he toes the line between wanting to lead his family/follow protocol, and break free of expectations to be with his true love Siena (Sabrina Bartlett). Anthony is frustrating because he leads Siena on with hopes and dreams of a happy life together, and with his position as the head of the family, he could make that decision and the steps needed to bring Siena in, but he doesn’t. Instead, he toys with Siena and his secret life, and when it comes time to help Daphne get her match, he does everything possible to ensure she fails/is unhappy. He only cares when his best friend (the Duke of Hastings) joins the list of suitors. Anthony is the worst.
The first season of Netflix’s Bridgerton delivered a deliciously fun time full of British refinement and soapy scandals. The plots hooked us in and the characters kept us coming back for more. With the exception of a few glaring holes and missteps, the season shined as a whole. The adventures of Bridgerton shouldn’t end any time soon.
Bridgerton Season 1 is now available to stream on Netflix.