Netflix’s new period drama Bridgerton, which releases on Christmas Day, has been described as a Regency-era Gossip Girl.
And you can see why. It is told by the mysterious Lady Whistledown, who regularly writes gossip-filled newsletters about high society dating exploits. Everyone reads her knowledgeable takes with fascination – but no one knows who she is.
It is 1813 and Daphne Bridgerton makes her London debut in the hope of finding a suitable husband. Matters are complicated by his older brother, whose perceptive eye keeps most male applicants from going very far.
“She’s the eldest daughter of the Bridgerton family,” says actress Phoebe Dynevor, “and she conforms to all of those crazy social rules and expectations that are placed on women, but also men, at this time. But she is very young and naive, and she is about to discover that the world is not quite as she had imagined. “
So, that’s the premise. Here’s all you need to know:
1. It is based on the best selling romance novels
The eight-part drama was adapted from Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novel series. They have sold over 10 million copies in the United States alone and have been translated into 32 languages around the world.
But there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it, which could in part be due to a certain snobbery that exists towards the genre.
“I think it’s a common thought that people watch romance novels,” says showrunner Chris Van Dusen. “Personally, I don’t understand why. I don’t think it’s the same with other genres. But at the end of the day, these books are filled with compelling characters and interesting stories.”
Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope Featherington, agrees: “I think they can definitely be [looked down upon], but that’s part of the show’s secret power in a way, because it’s a genre that hasn’t been explored much on TV. “
2. It is produced by one of the biggest names in television
Shonda Rhimes is not well known in the UK, but she is one of the most powerful leaders in the American television landscape, having created the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy and the political thriller Scandal. She also wrote the Britney Spears Crossroads movie, But Nobody’s Perfect.
In 2017, Netflix signed Rhimes and his production company Shondaland to
an exclusive deal worth $ 150million (£ 110million), which has so far allowed her to develop Bridgerton and the upcoming Inventing Anna series.
The deal was seen as a coup for Netflix due to Rhimes’ close ties to ABC. Extraordinarily, this decision was made due to a dispute Rhimes had with ABC’s parent company, Disney, over certain free family passes to Disneyland, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Either way, Rhimes brought Van Dusen with her to oversee Bridgerton, as the duo got back together.
“Yes, yes. I’ve worked in Shondaland most of my writing career, since Grey’s Anatomy,” Van Dusen explains. “Before Bridgerton I was working on Scandal, and as this show drew to a close, I was figuring out what to do next. I knew I wanted to do something completely different from modern Washington DC political intrigue, and that’s when Shonda told me about Bridgerton. “
3. Critical reception has been largely positive
Almost all critics noted that Bridgerton’s exit was on time, coming at the end of a gruesome 2020.
Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya described it as “a frothy, silly escape – the perfect Christmas offering for a crazy year”.
“It’s a fun show, for a while at least; the escape quotient is high,” Time’s Judy Berman admitted. But, she added, “If only the writing matched the production values.”
Vox’s Aja Romano was more critical, saying the show “stands out like a lot of aristocrats, it’s muddled: soulless and tasteless”.
But the show’s diverse cast was applauded by Kathryn VanArendonk of Vulture, who wrote, “Bridgerton is a glamorous example of what can happen when romance is allowed to belong to characters who aren’t all straight and white, and a fanfare and confetti reminder of what the genre can be at its best. “
4. The “Bridgerstans” must not be disturbed
After Coughlan was cast for the show, she “hid in online fan forums,” which only the bravest of actors would do.
“And I realized that the fans really liked Penelope, so I felt a lot of pressure and I didn’t want to let them down,” she explains. “They really wanted Emma Stone to be chosen, so I was like ‘I’m so sorry it’s me!'”
Fortunately, they gave Coughlan the seal of approval. “They were so adorable, when the cast was announced, they couldn’t be nicer,” she said. “But there is a huge fandom behind the show.” Indeed, Coughlan’s forum-mining has proven to be quite useful for other cast members.
“I think Nicola was definitely the spokesperson for the Brigerstans, as they call themselves,” Dynevor says. “We would go to Nicola if we had any questions from the fans.” Dynevor, however, chose to avoid forums (“for my own sanity”), adding, “There is a lot of pressure when there is already such following.”
5. The series is pure eye candy
British and American viewers are fond of period drama, and the Regency period in particular, because “it was a time of excess, beauty and decadence,” according to Van Dusen.
“It was overkill. And I think that’s why audiences love it so much. You’ve got the dancing, the costumes, the jewelry, the country houses, the sparkling ballrooms, and I think it all works. to provide us with an escape. “
Coughlan says he’s happy that such a “colorful and exciting” show comes out at the end of an otherwise miserable year. “We don’t need a dull, gray period drama,” she said, “Bridgerton is in full technicolor so I think that will be good for people.”
It’s clear from Bridgerton’s first few minutes that a lot of time and effort has gone into the costumes, hair styling and makeup.
“The adaptation process has been long,” admits Dynevor. “I had 104 dresses, all handmade from scratch, which is pretty unknown, the costume department was amazing. But also having to be adjusted in the costumes – every time I wasn’t filming I was in a fitting.
But that wasn’t the only thing the stars had to do to prepare for filming. Dynevor also had “riding lessons, dance lessons, and etiquette lessons,” in addition to learning all the lines. “But you had to dive into it,” she said.
6. There are parallels with today’s dating culture
Coughlan notes that today’s public can feel a new appreciation for the progress of the company since the 19th century. “Eloise and Penelope are virgins who do not know how to drive,” she emphasizes. “But not so long ago, young women still weren’t informed about all the facts in life.
“It’s fascinating to see, even as times have changed, how human nature persists. The same pressure is applied in different ways. You see the pressure on women to get married, and still is. You see the pressure on men to respond. stereotypical male roles in society and how people don’t want to be part of them. “
Van Dusen concludes: “Underneath all the glamor and lavishness there is this modern and running commentary on the series about how over the past 200 years everything has changed but nothing has changed, I think it is. is true for both men and women.
“We explore things like family, sexuality, dating, they were courting in the Regency days, and instead of these dating apps like Tinder, they were actually sliding left and right in rooms. prom all night. Finding these modern references was something we had a lot of fun with. “