Reviews often depend on expectations. If we consider Bridgerton, recently issued on Netflix, merely a Christmas show, a well packed fruit salad made of a bit of Gossip Girl, a bit of Pride and Prejudice, a pinch of Little Women and flavoured with some drops of Les Liaison Dangerous, I could even venture to say: “well, a tasty fruit salad”, but if the show has the presumption of being defined a historical drama, well, Bridgerton is absolutely ridiculously disappointing.
Bridgerton is based on the fortunate series of novels written by Julia Quinn and it is set in the early nineteenth century, that is Regency time, have you understood? Regency. That time which has become iconic thanks to Miss Austen’s characters like Mr Darcy and his Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Knightley and Emma Woodhouse , Capt. Wentworth and many others, remember? That time. In Quinn’s novels I think it was, actually, Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife, whom I had never had the chance to hear about before – my fault -, to have captured the creative genius of Shonda Rhimes. Why? Because some historians swear that this queen had black blood running in her veins and an accurate analysis of her features in her portraits proved for many this hypothesis.
By the ways, that was enough for Shonda, to imagine and I want to repeat it, imagine, an interracial society where black and white enjoyed the same rights, indeed, the former held the dominant stations in that aristocrat society, in fact, besides the Queen there is the Duke, the central character of the story, an uncommon species of man in the likeness of one of the doctors of Shonda’s hit, Grey’s Anatomy, doctor Jackson Avery. Of course, such strong revision of Regency times, as nothing of the kind is even mentioned in Quinn’s book, as many other such choices, make the drama so fastidiously inaccurate, that I thought, it ought to be a reason, a message of some kind, that is why I watched the entire season: to find that reason, which eventually I did not find. What I found is a series of imprecisions I was mostly annoyed with.
1) Setting. The story is set in London, but from the very first shot you clearly understand that we are in Bath ( and I am Italian!). It is as if somebody wanted to convince me that we are in Rome, while the hero is feeding the pigeons at St Mark’s Square in Venice, after all, what all the fuss is about Bath or London, it’s always England, after all.
2) Clothes. It seems they did accurate research about the Regency style of clothing, studies that they must have thrown away as soon as they started to shoot. The dresses are too colourful and shiny. Pages and pages about Lydia Bennet’s scheming about her laces to find here matrons attending balls with their boobs well exhibited and squeezed in corsets. By the ways, there is a lot of lingering on the pains caused by wearing corsets, but the dominant Regency fashion style was imperial, hence, there was no emphasis on the size of the waste and no such dreadful corsets were needed.
3) Dirty talk. I understand the necessity of modernizing stories to be more appealing and particularly refresh the dialogues a bit, but could you imagine Darcy whispering to Elizabeth, when they barely knew each other, if ….she gave herself pleasure and how? During that dance at Netherfield, for example, when Darcy finds himself wordless and so, to fill that silence he asks: “Miss Elizabeth, has it ever happen to you…hem… to touch…, you know what I mean”, could you? Well, Shonda did.
4) Interracial society. No need to say that there was no black aristocracy at the time, but the point is why such a choice? What did she want to demonstrate? Because those black in the show are actually white, but born black. There is no cultural difference at all, the theme of ethnicity is not even touched, maybe once, but just slightly by the Duke’s father. Besides, the interracial society represented in the drama is far more advanced than ours, of the kind we won’t reach even in a hundred years, I am sure. It has recently become customary to see white characters played by black actors on movies, as Anne Boleyn will be, but again, but I don’t understand the point. Let’s take a classic like “Amistad” for example, or “Roots”, would it be the same if some of the slaves were played by Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Matt Damon, for instance? I guess it would not.
5) Beauty. The Duke is not only the most powerful man of the lot, but also the most handsome. He is the lighthouse whose blinding gorgeousness obscures all the other characters both male and female, even her beloved, Daphne, whom Jane Austen would have defined nothing more than… plain. For some reasons the viewer cannot understand why she is admired and desired by everybody, but it is clear that Shonda’s intent was to put in the limelight her hero rather than her heroine.
Hence, had the show been a fantasy, I would have had nothing to say, but when you claim it to be a historical drama set in Regency time, you must admit that there is but one queen, Shonda, and that’s Jane Austen. There is no place for anybody else.