The steamy historical show isn’t without controversy
This article contains discussions of sexualized assault and violence.
It has been just over a year since Bridgerton took the world by storm and became Netflix’s most popular English series ever with 625.5 million hours streamed in its first 28 days. Season two is on the horizon, premiering on Netflix on Mar. 25, 2022. Whether you have binged the first season more than once, or you are one of the few who have yet to watch the romance period piece, let’s review season one of Bridgerton in anticipation.
The hit television show is adapted from the book series by bestselling author Julia Quinn, titled The Bridgerton Series. The eight novels within the series chronicle the lives of eight siblings in the well-to-do Bridgerton family as they look for love and happiness in early 1800s London high society.
Season one of the Netflix adaptation follows the story of Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest Bridgerton daughter played by actor Phoebe Dynevor, as she makes her debut in London’s cutthroat marriage market. As she navigates the ups and downs of Regency London and high society, Daphne’s path crosses with the eternal bachelor Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, played by actor Regé-Jean Page. As romance inevitably blossoms between the debutante and the mysterious duke, their secrets threaten to crush any hope they have of real happiness.
Like many historical romances, Bridgerton is set in a fictionalized version of the Regency period, a period in 19th century Britain when the London aristocracy revolved their lives around annual events and debuts, and nightly parties. As the social functions of this time were built on complex, often perplexing, etiquette, the stakes were high for eligible bachelors and bachelorettes — saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could have disastrous consequences for their futures. The opulence of these rituals and events is what makes historical romances so popular.
Bridgerton leans heavily on vintage historical romance themes, such as love, marriage, and class, but the show shot to stardom and gripped its watchers with its steamy sex scenes. A lot of sex scenes. This is definitely not a show you want to watch with your parents. The show twists its plots around themes of scandal, desire, and family, all of which are explored as Daphne experiences a sexual awakening. However, when it comes to consent, the show leaves its viewers disappointed and disturbed. Watch out for spoilers up ahead.
While the show attempts to present positive and progressive storylines about sexuality, gender, and race, Bridgerton is not without its controversy and shortcomings. The most significant example of this is the rape scene in episode six.
After Simon lies to Daphne about his ability to have children, Daphne assaults her husband in order to try and get pregnant. This disturbing scene is never addressed for what it is — rape — and after it happens, the show quickly moves on. The show even casts Daphne as the victim of Simon’s lies, rather than the perpetrator of a non-consensual attack. It is also important to note that Daphne is played by a white actress and Simon is played by a Black actor, which means the rape scene exists within the lengthy history of sexual assault against Black bodies.
If Bridgerton was written to represent race in a nuanced light, this would have been addressed, but the show’s representation of race leaves plenty to be desired. Chris Van Dusen, creator of Bridgerton, resists the idea that Bridgerton takes a “colourblind” approach to race, but Bridgerton only addresses that race exists once, during a conversation between Simon and Lady Danbury. In the scene, Lady Danbury recalls when “we were two separate societies, divided by colour until a king fell in love with one of us,” which sends the message that in the Bridgerton universe, Black people are indebted to the white king.
Bridgerton never acknowledges that Daphne and Simon are an interracial couple, or all the realities that come along with that, especially in the 19th century. Additionally, many of the Black women in the show are minor characters without a backstory, such as Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte, or they lack character development and are unjustly villainized, such as Marina. These shortcomings make a show written to be lavish and steamy deeply uncomfortable to sit through.
In the upcoming second season of Bridgerton, another interracial couple will be the main focus, the characters of Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma. This time around the show has an opportunity to rectify their past mistakes by telling Anthony and Kate’s story with more nuance.