Feel like the TV schedule is missing a bit of Julian Fellowes this year? New Netflix series Bridgerton is here to fill the void, bringing more than a dash of wit along for the ride. Created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, who’ve worked on How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy between them, Bridgerton is a modern, much-needed addition to the festive line-up, particularly in a year where Christmas Day proceedings look a little different for so many.
The series follows the beautiful Daphne (played by Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest daughter of the influential Bridgerton family as she lands onto the capital’s cutthroat matchmaking scene. Hoping to follow in her parents’ footsteps and find a match sparked by true love, Daphne’s prospects initially seem to be unrivalled, especially when she’s given the nod by the queen herself. But as her older brother Anthony – taking on fatherly duties following the death of Lord Bridgerton – begins to rule out her potential suitors, a high-society scandal sheet casts aspersions on Daphne, leaving her previous queue of men nowhere to be seen.
Enter the highly desirable and rebellious Simon, Duke of Hastings (the dashing Regé-Jean Page), a committed bachelor and the catch of the season for the debutantes’ desperate mothers. A friend of Daphne’s oldest brother, the pair initially ignore each other’s qualities: Simon doesn’t want to marry anyone, and Daphne is desperate to escape a last-ditch proposal from a highly unsuitable lord, hastily engineered by Anthony to save the family’s face. However, the attraction between Simon and Daphne is undeniable and sparks fly as they find themselves engaged in an increasing battle of wits while navigating society’s expectations for their future.
Underpinning the drama is narrator Lady Whistledown, who alerts the audience to delicious nuggets of gossip as we survey the characters at high teas and lavish balls. She’s also the author of Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, an anonymous printed newsletter that circulates throughout society, making and breaking characters with her revelations. Voiced by Julie Andrews, Lady Whistledown and her mysterious missive have drawn comparisons to Gossip Girl, even if the media used in this series is a typed pamphlet over round-robin texts. But the modernity doesn’t stop there. The show’s credentials as more than just another stuffy period drama also come into focus through its sex scenes – including an amusing set-up early in the first episode – witty one-liners, and a soundtrack that incorporates string quartets playing Ariana Grande. The jewel in the crown, however, has to be the excellent outfits which – like recent hits Little Women and Emma – will have you scrolling online for similar frilled necklines and puff sleeves.
The series’ other strength is the casting. First up, it’s so refreshing to see a diverse cast in a period drama, which helps to makes the action all the more relatable. Queen Charlotte (played by Luther’s Golda Rosheuvel), Lady Danbury (played by a scene-stealing Adjoa Andoh) and Simon make a particularly powerful trio as they rule over the proceedings of the first few episodes. We also need to give a shout-out to the Featherington family, a down-on-their-luck unit who live over the road from the Bridgertons’ picture-perfect, wisteria-covered mansion. Headed up by Polly Walker (Line of Duty) and Ben Miller (Death In Paradise), Lord and Lady Featherington’s three largely unsuitable daughters cause much hilarity throughout the series, especially Penelope, played by Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan. Like her friend Eloise Bridgerton (Line of Duty’s Claudia Jessie), she’s not interested in finding a husband, and would much rather pay attention to her studies and go to university like the older Bridgerton boys. But when a distant cousin comes to stay, she soon becomes another rival for the affections of the local lords, and Penelope must keep a terrible secret on her behalf.
At its heart, Bridgerton is a romantic, quick-witted series that celebrates enduring friendships, families finding their way, and the never-ending search for love. Julia Quinn’s bestsellers comprise eight novels, each detailing one Bridgerton sibling’s journey. Given the first, The Duke and I, focuses on Daphne, we’re hoping seven more series might follow. But for now, we’re happy to indulge in these eight light-hearted episodes. Filled with cheerful familiarity and fun, it’s just the sort of frivolous TV we want to watch this Christmas.
Bridgerton is available to watch on Christmas Day