Are There Lesbians? No
With the beginning of a new social season, and ad fresh clutch of debutantes, the stage is set for scandal, romance and intrigue. The story follows the Bridgerton family, but especially their eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and her attempts to find love and a husband with an overbearing older brother. When she forms an alliance with the most eligible duke (Regé-Jean Page) of the ton in order to fool everyone, will it end in romance or tears?
I love period dramas. I especially love period romance dramas, and so I have been waiting eagerly for Bridgerton since the first trailer. I wasn’t disappointed. The show is a completely lavish affair, with new dresses almost ever scene and at least one extravagant ball per episode it seems. Best of all my favourite trope in the whole world makes an appearance – the fake relationship. We all know how those turn out. It is just one marker though that the Bridgerton family as a whole (perhaps with the one exception of their mother) has more money than any real sense. Trouble starts when oldest brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) overbearing in his role as Viscount Bridgerton, scares away all but the most intently repulsive of Daphne’s suitors. So naturally she makes nice with his friend Simon, Duke of Hastings, in order that she might be seen as desirable, and he might be free from mothers chivvying their daughters at him. The two have some truly great banter, and I found the episodes where they danced around each other and their feelings to be the most interesting. I feel like many of the later episodes, while perfectly fraught, lacked something. Perhaps it was my simple thought that were the characters to actually talk to one another a lot of trouble might be avoided, but then I suppose if they did that there would be very little story to tell.
For the most part, I found Bridgerton to be delightful, fluffy and raunchy in almost equal parts, which just means that the problems I found with it stand out all the more in my mind. It starts with epsisode one and the debutantes being presented to Queen Charlotte.
What are these dresses? Sure they are perfectly lovely regency period dresses, but these are not court presentation gowns. Bridgerton is set around 1813, and we know that until her death in 1818, the singularly old-fashioned Queen Charlotte demanded impractically large skirts be worn by women in her presence. Not only when being presented as debutantes but for all ladies of the court.
Why do the girls not look like cupcakes? I can understand that a lot of artistic license was taken with the majority of costumes, and yet this gets to me. It actually almost gets to me more than the repeated wearing of corsets without chemises underneath. to y’know protect a lady’s soft skin from being chafed and cut by her corseting. There is also this scene:
I would love a scene where a woman ties her corset normally instead of tightlacing, so that her breasts are supported and she can breathe, but I suppose that’s too much to hope for. I would also like to point out that there is zero point in tightlacing in a regency dress, and it wasn’t done because the line of the dresses doesn’t emphasise the waist at all! Look at those dresses in the background, you can’t tell where anyone’s natural waist is let alone how small it is. This is just one in the long line of scenes that feel like their supposed to refer to the disempowerment of women or something, but is actually just factually incorrect and therefore only annoying and serving to take me out of the world being presented.
On the subject of being forcibly ejected from the world I’ve chosen to immerse myself in for several hours, I’m still not sure how I feel about all those string quartet covers of modern songs. It’s more distracting than anything else, because once I realise I recognise the tune I would then spend the rest of the scene trying to work out what the hell it was insteead of paying attention to what’s happening, which is all well and good when it takes a short time (Like listening to Bad Guy by Billie Eilish at a ball) but is more difficult when I haven’t heard the song in a while (It took me a whole romance scene to finally recognise Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams). Thankfully at least, these more recognisable modern songs don’t play over any important dialogue (at least not that I remember, obviously) but are there to add to sweeping scenic shots and romantic eye contact.
Then there’s the big thing. The rape scene. The Mary Sue has already done a good wrap-up of this scene and how uncomfortable it is, but they brought up a very good point near the end which I feel could have been more finished.
Regardless of how you may think of the historical context embedded in all of this, by race-bending Simon there are more issues with how that power is shared.Princess Weekes
To make it perfectly clear, slavery and the ownership of black bodies by white people puts another level of not-okay on Daphne’s rape of Simon. This is the sort of thing that black men got lynched for even when it was consensual, let alone for saying no to a white woman. I really liked the race-bending of the characters in Bridgerton, but I feel that the attempt to present an alternate history of Regency England was a little ham-fisted and lacked depth and the simple acknowledgement that the people watching the show have a very different history, and that what we read from the scenes isn’t always as simple as we might even wish it was. At the very least I think that the rape scene made for a very interesting plot point, which I rarely say, but that it could have been handled with a little more thought, and had a little more depth than a reason to create more conflict between the two main characters.
I liked Bridgerton enough to have strong opinions about it and I am absolutely gunning for the next season. However, I think that the show attempted to address issues it wasn’t quite ready for and so they tended to get lost in the overall spectacle, resulting in a strong sense of dissatisfaction, especially in the last few episodes when all was brushed aside for the sake of a quick happy ending.