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Netflix’s Bridgerton Review – IGN

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For readers around the world, Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton saga is something of a gateway drug to the world of romance novels. The eight-book long series, centered on the eponymous family during the height of the Regency era, is a full house bingo card of everything that makes romance so enticing: Stolen glances across the ballroom, societal gossip, familial strife, sharp-tongued banter that cloaks true emotions, and, of course, love conquering all. It’s the stuff of TV dreams — Bridgerton has already often been described as “Downtown Abbey meets Gossip Girl” — so it only made sense for Netflix to bring it to the small screen.The first season of Bridgerton comes to us courtesy of Shondaland, the first major television offering of showrunner extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes’s much-publicized deal with the streaming service. The work of Rhimes (who executive produces Bridgerton, while Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy alum Chris Van Dusen serves as showrunner and creator) and her Shondaland banner is famous for its blend of soapy thrills, social commentary, and an altogether more delicious appetite for characters and viewers alike. Even for those unfamiliar with Quinn’s novels, Bridgerton will prove to be an enticing slice of Shondaland at its best.

Netflix’s Bridgerton: Season 1 Official Photos

The eponymous Bridgertons are a clan of eight children with alphabetized names and the eyes of London society on them at all times. The eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) is set to make her debut as an eligible wife-to-be, and she seems set for greatness when none other than Queen Charlotte herself (a deliciously meddling Golda Rosheuvel) bestows upon her the royal seal of approval. But the course of a good match never ran smoothly, and it’s not long before Daphne’s hopes and reputation are on the line. Step forward Simon Basset, the new Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) freshly arrived in London. He’s the most eligible bachelor on the market but he has no interest in finding a wife, siring an heir, or performing any of his noble duties. It only makes sense for he and Daphne to strike a deal: they shall play the role of besotted lovers to the outside world, thus keeping him off the marriage market and making her a greater prospect for social-climbing singletons. It can’t possibly go wrong, unless the seemingly omniscient gossip writer Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews with the right balance of nobility and bitchiness) has something to say in her latest column.The intrigue of Bridgerton comes from its tangled ecosystem of friends, frenemies, suitors, and voyeurs. The most exciting moments often come not from scenes of bombast but in the whispers that shape the season. There are men in this story, all of whom are interesting and often deeply alluring, but this is a show most concerned with the plight and passions of women. It does not feel the need to force high-concept drama or unnecessarily soapy details into their lives to make them interesting. Van Dusen has enough trust in both his source material and the very concept of a Regency romance saga.

Daphne and Simon’s relationship, through all its ruses and passions, is perfectly conveyed by Dynevor and Page, who share impeccable chemistry. Every barbed word shared between them and each smoldering glance is enough to keep audiences enraptured. Their relationship is one restricted by myriad societal demands. If they fail to convince the world of their “love” then Daphne may never find a good match. This is a prospect that Bridgerton takes most seriously and never dismisses as romantic twaddle or forced tension.BRIDGERTON_101_Unit_01798R3

Netflix’s Bridgerton stars Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton and Regé-Jean Page as Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings

The true heart of the show comes with its empathy. This isn’t a story with cookie-cutter heroes and villains. (Only one character can truly be described as odious and he disappears after a few episodes.) Bridgerton seeks to show not only how the course of true love can find a way through the darkness but how such a prospect is almost laughably impossible during this time. Love is business and it’s an industry that nobody can escape. For women, your only goal is to marry well, have lots of children, and silently perform your duties in a manner that will not cause scandal to nosey gossips. One small slip-up, or something as seemingly innocuous as being alone with a man for a short period of time, could be enough to render you completely tainted and ruin your prospects for life. Men have more freedom, but it doesn’t make things much easier for the likes of Simon, Anthony, or Benedict, all of whom have desires that are incompatible with their inherited duties.

Bridgerton gives every character in this vast ensemble room to breathe and the attention their unique plights deserve. Daphne craves a married life with children but is also aware that her performance during the season will impact her entire family. Anthony must be a good Viscount for his family, but his heart lies with a woman who he can never marry. Eloise feels trapped by her lack of prospects as a young woman with no money or power. Lady Featherington (Polly Walker, having the time of her life) manipulates and tries desperately to secure her family’s status because it’s all she has. Even Queen Charlotte, a woman who seemingly holds all the cards, is still a consort with no hard power in court beyond her societal obligations. Each and every one of these characters has a compelling interiority and a unique role to play in London society. Bridgerton has immense affection for all of them and never sacrifices character in favor of drama. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of that to go round.

Not an inch of detail is overlooked, be it the exquisitely sewn costumes, the cynical glances of the maids, or, yes, the sex scenes. Rest assured, dear readers, for Bridgerton does not skimp on the unbridled passion of Quinn’s novels. Hell, they add even more scenes for pure satisfaction. Some critics may take umbrage with what they see as an assembly line of well-worn tropes, but any true romance lover will know that the genre thrives on the embrace and savvy utilization of the comfortingly familiar. There are romps in the meadows, kisses in the rain, and meddling mothers at tea-time, and it is all executed with such delicate flair that Bridgerton makes the usual fresh again. This is not just a show that takes its own concept seriously: It’s one that respects the romance genre as a whole, and I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to see that, especially given how widely ignored or derided romance novels are by the cultural mainstream.As a lover of romance novels, it’s a true delight to see a series like this in all its loving and sumptuous glory. The series effectively uses the books to build an even richer and more diverse world, one that blends the intrinsically fairy tale quality of the genre with a more modernized approach. Bridgerton is racially diverse in a way that historical dramas seldom are, with the show imagining an alternate history where King George III’s marriage to a princess of color paves the way for a sort of racial harmony among the various classes. Outside of the prevailing marriage game that drives the show, Bridgerton frequently shifts its focus to romances on the societal margins, including gay and polyamorous affairs that were absent from the novels. It’s a welcome expansion of the source material and a keen reminder that historical fiction should not feel constrained to ideas of “historical accuracy” when it’s already playing fast and loose with, in this case, the Regency era.

Beyond those changes, readers of Quinn’s books will be keen to spot the differences between Bridgerton and the first book in the series, The Duke and I, from which this season is largely adapted. Each book in Quinn’s series focuses on one of the eight siblings, but here, the scope is expanded to tell many stories, including the eldest sibling Anthony’s dalliances with his opera singer mistress and Eloise’s hunt to uncover the identity of Lady Whistledown. Fans should be warned not to expect a straightforward transfer from page to screen. Indeed, the gentler narrative of Quinn’s books is given a serious injection of drama.

Regardless of whether you’ve read Quinn’s novels or haven’t read a romance in your life, Bridgerton is sure to delight and will provide many with the perfect Christmas binge-watch. It’s the sort of cozy viewing experience perfectly designed for such seasons, and the way that the show builds upon the foundations of its source material suggests that they’re more than ready to tackle the next seven books and spin-offs.

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