Bridgerton has been a stand out hit for Netflix in a year when new offerings have been patchy (The Queen’s Gambit is my clear winner). It has all the ingredients for a successful show: elaborate sets and costumes, intrigue and drama driven by oppressive social mores and attractive actors with dazzling smiles and smouldering looks. I’m a sucker for a period drama. I love the clothes and the opulance, the subtle tension and plots driven as much by what isn’t said as what is.
When I watched the trailer, I had a niggling feeling that this show wasn’t going to sit well with me. It didn’t.
I’m sorry, I just don’t like it.
I may lose some friends over this bold statement but so be it. Some things are too important to back down from, like taking a stand against pollution or not being the kind of person who goes to the shops in their bare feet.
My feelings toward Bridgerton stem from a deep an abiding love of Jane Austen. I liken my reaction to Netflix’s salacious series to hearing your favourite song covered by a country singer, or if country is your game by Daft Punk. It doesn’t necessarily mean the cover is bad… it’s just not what you know and love.
My criticisms of Bridgerton are as follows (and please be aware I have only watched the first episode):
- Cut and paste dialogue from Pride and Prejudice.
- Cut and paste characterisation from Austen. Daphne’s intended husband is a Mr Collins all over and her sisters are straight out of Pride and Prejudice. You have Mary, Kitty, Lizzie and to a lesser extent Jane.
- Tokenistic feminist speeches while at the same perpetuating female stereotypes.
- The farcical names. I think you know what I mean. Fine for a silly Fringe show spoof but not for a show trying to take itself seriously.
- Cut and paste fashion and styles. This is a minor flaw, as it doesn’t cost much to overlook a few blended eras in the pursuit of beauty and style.
- The colour-blind casting. Stick with me for a minute. Colour-blind casting is fantastic and important. My issue with it here, isn’t the casting selection but more the potential that ignoring racial and class issues of this era invites us all to pretend that there weren’t any.
In an interesting article in the Financial Review (of all places), Nina Metz points at that Bridgerton “artfully side steps just how all that wealth came to be.” (I won’t link to Metz’s article because it is behind a paywall.) This is an important point that is often ignored in period dramas. Let’s not forget, that the wealth of the British Empire was built on subjugation, slavery and bloodshed. In building a world where race doesn’t impact opportunity and wealth (as we would all like the world to be), Bridgerton allows us to indulge in the fantasy that the characters we are falling in love with aren’t comprimised by the source of their excessive lifestyle. Touted as the next Downton Abbey (another overrated show I did get hooked on), Bridgerton doesn’t give us any insight into the world that supports the aristrocracy.
I don’t object to sex scenes as such, and I’ve read an argument that they work in Bridgerton to demonstrate the existence of female desire. Fair enough. Let’s not also forget that famous old saying, ‘sex sells’. I’m not sure Bridgerton is as altruistic as some might like to think.
Then there’s the argument that it’s a bit of mindless fun. Fine. Nothing wrong with that but Bridgerton doesn’t get to be a piece of mindless fun and pretend to advance social, feminist, racial and classist concerns. If wants to be taken seriously, it needs to take itself seriously. In another recent article, the author Julia Quinn lamented the “curse” of Jane Austen. However, if she didn’t want people to make the comparison, she shouldn’t have stolen so much material.
There’s also the argument that the Duke is extremely good looking. He is. However, like Outlander before it (and I’m really taking my life into my hands here) an attractive actor doesn’t make up for other failings. This isn’t about Outlander and I won’t even try to discuss that particular show for fear that you may hunt me down and kill me in my bed.
At this stage I’m not planning on finishing Bridgerton. The Austen lover in me recoils at seeing her intelligence, wit and genuine commentary on the life of women and the evils of the aristocracy treated like a soap opera.
Will I watch it if I’m lying on the couch sick, unable to feed myself and moaning in a frankly pathetic manner? Probably.
There’s nothing wrong with liking shows for their spectacle, sex appeal or fairy-floss substance (we’re all guilty of getting hooked on easy to watch fluff. I watched ALL of the True Blood series) but the show doesn’t get to claim the high ground for it.
Am I literary snob? Maybe… I like to think not. I admit openly that romance isn’t my genre most of the time. But there are well written romances. For me, Bridgerton has done a dodgy, pop-song cover of a classic using autotune and a dance troupe in bikinis.
*** I promise if I watch the rest and change my mind, I’ll retract my statements.