CHENNAI: It may seem such a dichotomy that while 19th century upper-class women in England were headstrong and knew exactly what they wanted, they hankered after men who could be good husbands and fathers.
US romance author Julia Quinn’s eight bestselling novels, penned between 2000 and 2006, are all about England’s nobility and royalty as they lived in the 1800s, and Netflix and Shondaland’s new piece – eight episodes in all of under an hour each – adapts Quinn’s first in the series, “The Duke and I.”
Titled “Bridgerton,” the TV series is a feast for the eyes with its fancy balls, fancier dresses, and the usual mix of delicate ladies and dashing men all making their way in a society where mothers are desperate to see their girls settle with good husbands.
While the series — which has taken the world by storm — features a fresh take on powerful women, even though they are working within the confines of what society expects of them, another more important point is the inclusiveness the series portrays. Black men and women feature among the noble elite in a far cry from the reality of Regency England.
Main characters Simon Basset (Rege-Jean Page) and Queen Charlotte of England (Golda Rosheuvel) are both black, for example, although in the latter’s case this may actually have rung true, with some historians arguing that she may have descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family.
The reimaging of Regency-era high society is refreshing to say the least.
The plot kicks off with the 1813 “season” in London when single women are paraded before the Queen and attend one ball after another in the hope of finding a suitable match.
The drama follows Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) as she navigates the cut-throat world of nobles in a bid to find a husband and keep her family’s honor intact while doing so — a trope that runs throughout the series, but one that is not confined to history in many parts of the world.
The makers injected a bit of “Gossip Girl” style fun with the introduction of a scandal sheet of a newsletter, written by Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews offers the voiceover here), which pulls the veil back on society’s innermost secrets and sets tongues wagging — and events into motion — throughout the series.
Created by “Scandal” producer Chris Van Dusen, “Bridgerton” does have points of relevance and essays the dawn of women’s rights nicely, especially through the character of Eloise Bridgeton, wonderfully played by Claudia Jessie. Interestingly, the series also focuses on women’s rights to enjoy marital pleasures in a very 21st century take on husband-and-wife relationships.
However, beyond this, “Bridgerton” comes off as a shallow piece of fiction that outweighs itself with style, not substance, because so much of it is all about how a woman looks.
We have had Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, who also spoke about these, but gave their stories something solid for us to reflect upon long after we stopped turning the pages.