Not really a review: Bridgerton

I’m a veteran of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and every frilly-frock drama produced by the BBC since 1992. I know the lineage of the British monarchy better than I know my own family tree.

I just got back in the land of Netflix after a week’s holiday where I didn’t open my laptop (!). I’m sick in bed now, and very pleased to have the company of a binge-worthy new release I’ve been hearing about on Twitter for days.

How fascinating to watch the latest American take on a regency romance, Bridgerton. It looks like a top-shelf, high production values BBC adaptation of a novel, but it’s a Netflix original from Shondaland – and is just as compelling and fun as you’d expect from her team.

Here’s the main point of the show. Bridgerton plays the classist, patriarchal game, resting the entire plot on the ridiculous marriage market among London’s upper classes. But it says the quiet part out loud at every opportunity. The women know they’re trapped. The men know they can get away with just about anything.

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Stray observations

  • The racially inclusive casting means everyone gets to enjoy the fun of acting in a frilly-frock show and imagining themselves fencing, or promenading with suitors. Given that decision, I wish the two main families, with a dozen children between them, hadn’t been white, though.
  • Julie Andrews!
  • It’s proper English, and could almost pass for BBC, except they have let a few Americanisms slip through: it was jarring to hear posh English people measure time by saying they were booked ‘through June,’ and talk about something being so big ‘of’ a difference. If my Dad watches, he’ll grumble about ‘different than’ for sure. And I wasn’t convinced that any of the Mammas would be introduced as ‘the Right Honourable’ at Court. But this is just fun for pedants – don’t mind us.
  • And how, how, how do the writers get away with making so many people say they ‘truly believe’ things?
  • I hope Rose the maid gets to keep those fancy flowers Daphne throws out.
  • I love the alphabetical naming of the Bridgerton children: ‘your father and I thought it orderly’!
  • Bridgerton’s writers have got rid of racism with the (implausible) stroke of a pen. It’s the only social improvement, though. Reminders of the horrors of patriarchal, unequal, heteronormative, ableist societies include:
    • A vile man whose only concern during a dangerous birth is ‘what is it?’ He gloats over his newborn penis-owner while his wife dies of blood loss.
    • The same vile man banishes the bright and beautiful son because he stutters. Just ghastly.
    • Not only is Daphne reliant on marriage, she is nearly powerless about who she marries, once her bossy big brother has his epiphany about performing his matchmaking ‘duty’. He is such a dick, eh.
    • One poor woman faints because her corset is too tight.
    • Lady Featherington’s visit to the slums is pretty gross. Bring on modern sanitation.
  • I say the racial equity is implausible because the explanation given in one of the later episodes suggests that there was a sudden social change only a few decades before, driven by a single event. The idea that a whole society could change so deeply in that time seems… optimistic?
  • Thought from the second episode: Surely ‘not the marrying type’ should mean Simon or Anthony is gay? That would be a far better explanation than wanting to give the finger to a dead father or dating an opera singer.
  • Was anyone else confused by the displaying of sheets that apparently *didn’t* have blood on them? How is that a sudden giveaway? If anything, the maid should be talking about how Marina hasn’t requested her ‘monthly linen’ or something – I wish they hadn’t fudged this one.
  • Oh, the terrible power of ignorance, eh? All these teens with academic ambitions worrying about how to avoid catching pregnancy.
  • How on earth can they mistake a waltz for that 4/4 polka thing in the last ep?
  • Like all historical horror shows, er, I mean, romances, Bridgerton showcases outrageous inequities that persist all over the world in 2021. Daphne, whose reputation and security is threatened by taking the wrong path (literally), would find women’s lives in present day Saudi Arabia utterly familiar. Today, as you read this, about 800 women will die in childbirth around the world, because they didn’t get the kind of rich-country standard healthcare that saved my life a few years ago (an emergency Caesarian). Girls’ access to education has improved worldwide, but Eloïse and Pen would still struggle to go to university in plenty of countries, either because boys are prioritised, or because the cost is prohibitive.
  • In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel, The Water Dancer, the enslaved protagonist explains how weak and useless the ‘Quality’ people are. They can’t grow crops, make food, or even dress themselves. They’re entirely dependent on more capable people to make their lives possible. The cold milk scene in Bridgerton told a similar story.
  • On a lighter note, Bridgerton stands out for me as the first frilly-frock drama whose plot turns on a question of ejaculation. I think we’ve made the case for proper, shame-free, factual sex education.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support, as always.

What did you think?

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