“Bridgerton Review: And Netflix…Excuse Me, Shonda Rhimes Has Done It Again”
Although most of the credit for the success of Bridgerton, now Netflix’s 5th most-watched original television series, must be given to Hollywood’s powerhouse producer, screenwriter, and showrunner Shonda Rhimes and Chris Van Dusen, it is imperative to acknowledge what the streaming giant accomplished once again. And I’m not just referring to the fact that the show was a hit. I’m talking about Netflix wrapping up two consecutive years with a banger (in December 2019, they released The Witcher, its most-watched original).
The combination of creative power between Rhimes’ Shondaland and Netflix was able to generate a lot of buzz in the last week of 2020, competing with Disney/Pixar’s massive hit Soul and WarnerMedia’s blockbuster WonderWoman 1984. Consequently, subscribers found themselves finishing the year, or starting 2021, trying to guess who Lady Whistledown was (better than wondering why Wonder Woman 1984 was able to pull such horrible special effects). Regardless of whether this reminds you of Gossip Girl, it is certainly a smart way to catch people’s attention.
Finally, before we get right into this review/feature piece, I think that it is interesting to mention that Bridgerton was released three years after Rhimes signed her nine-figure deal with Netflix, meaning that the company, known for releasing content in bulk, was willing to play the long game with the creator — there’s an excellent article by The Hollywood Reporter about how Rhimes left Disney for Netflix.
To kick this review off, let’s infer Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), shall we? “I wish to be entertained.” Bridgerton, an adaptation of historical romance novels by American best-selling author Julia Quinn, did more than entertain, it really stood up to the genre in which it was cataloged because if there’s one thing that this show has is definitely drama, great-quality one. Adding up to that, the comedy bits carefully inserted in the multiple dialogues, particularly present in Lady Danbury’s (Adjoa Andoh) straightforward and passive-aggressive way of expressing herself, as well as indirectly projected in the many situations faced by the characters, such as Benedict Bridgerton’s (Luke Thompson) awkward moments, set, in my opinion, a perfect mood to a series that averages one hour per episode. To cite Queen Charlotte once again, “a pairing like that would be most enchanting indeed.”
Overall, Bridgerton has 19 main characters, and, although in this first season many of these received much more screen time than others, I wouldn’t single out any of them as unnecessary, not even Gregory Bridgerton (Will Tilston), the youngest of the eight Bridgerton siblings. Zooming into character development, it is definitely one of the aspects I most enjoyed about the show. For the sake of length, I’m just going to focus on two, Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her mother Violet, Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell).
The series’ first season revolves around the story of Daphne and Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), Duke of Hastings, therefore, much was expected from these two characters in terms of development. (Disclaimer: if you decide to watch without knowing anything about it, you don’t need Sherlock Holmes’ investigative skills to know that these two will somehow have a love story). Daphne, a newly introduced debutant, already starts the show in a comfortable, yet super envied position after receiving high praises from Queen Charlotte. From there, she goes through an emotional rollercoaster between the need to find a husband before the end of the “social season” and seeking the same true love shared by her “mamá and papá.” Throughout the entire process, even after meeting the Duke, Daphne swings between naiveness and strong will (often presented in the form of stubbornness). However, apart from the expected teenage mistakes and attitudes, she never lost track of who she was and what was expected from her. She was very vocal about it, sometimes even judgmental. Despite her young age, she showcased much maturity when expressing her opinions. Lastly, the character was so well-built that even after one of the most controversial moments of the entire show, an intimate scene between herself and the Duke, she was able to “revert” the situation by conducting a series of important actions. Personally, with Daphne you can have twists of emotions, going from love to hate and back to love in a short period.
Regarding Lady Bridgerton, surely a nice improvement from her first appearances, going from a somewhat submissive woman standing in the shadow of her eldest son Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) to a symbol of empowerment and confidence. At the beginning of the show, even though she voiced her opinions regarding some decisions to be made on behalf of Daphne, not only weren’t these opinions taken into consideration in the case of disagreement, but Lady Bridgerton didn’t have the confidence to stand for herself. However, after many bad decisions made by Anthony, she decided to step up and take the reigns whenever the subject was the future of her daughters.
On the other hand, the only character who remained the same from beginning to end was Lady Danbury, a wise, fair, and respected woman greatly interpreted by Adjoa Andoh (needless to say she was my favorite). If I could guess, I would say she’s probably the most beloved character amongst viewers. Not only is her wisdom reflected in her perfectly crafted decisions, but she is the only one who doesn’t play around or is taken for a fool while also displaying a sufficient amount of humor to make you enjoy every moment she appears on the screen.
When it comes to the story, it certainly has different moods with Rhimes and Bridgerton creator Van Nusen definitely not wanting to leave anything out, including sex scenes (although I believe comparisons with 50 Shades of Grey are exaggerated). One of the most talked-about aspects of the show is the narrator, or Lady Whistledown, voiced by the one and only Dame Julie Andrews. As I already mentioned, the Gossip Girl-esque approach was both refreshing and attention-grabber (did you guess who she was before the last episode?). When it comes to the drama, in the best Shonda Rhimes style, there is enough in one season to fill up your stomach for days without making you sick. However, if you decide to binge-watch, I hope your digestive system works well because it is a lot to take, even if it’s done in multiple bites.
Production-wise, the show was shot in beautiful locations through London, Bath, and York, once again demonstrating that Netflix does aim for quality from time to time, and certainly spends a lot for that. Moreover, costume design was precise, elegant, and charmingly crafted (props to Lady Danbury’s dark and burgundy dresses, adding a little more power to her presence).
In a year dominated by streaming services, with Disney+ easily being considered the winner with its continuously growing number of worldwide subscribers, I believe Bridgerton shows that Netflix isn’t the current reigning champion simply because it entered the game years before its competitors. An exquisitely produced show brought to life by a big caliber creator with a mega follower base that achieved success without A-list stars and launched during a period of major releases.
“You Do Not Know Me, But I Know You!” — Lady Whistledown