Written by Katie Constantine
Edited by Catherine Harlow
Since Bridgerton hit Netflix Christmas day, it has quickly become one of the site’s most-watched series. Many people have related it to Downton Abbey and Gossip Girl due to the time period and the anonymous gossip column that captivates London. While it sets itself apart in many ways, the most obvious way is through the diverse casting, feminist characters, and LGBTQ+ visibility. These fresh takes are what happen when there is diversity in the writers’ room.
The one scene in Bridgerton where the diversity is quickly explained, tells the story of how Queen Charlotte’s marriage to the King elevated the ranks of the black community in England. In reality, one may wonder where this idea came from and if it was based on truth or fantasy. Historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom published research that found the real Queen Charlotte of England, who was married to King George III, did indeed have African roots. He says that her lineage stems from the black branch of the Portuguese royal family. Also, he noted that she is depicted in paintings and sculptures as having clear African features. Other historians have said that her relation to any African relatives is too removed to be visible. Whichever side you believe, one thing seems to be true: the world in Bridgerton is based on a sugar-coated notion of what society would look like if Queen Charlotte was visibly and unquestionably a Black Queen married to a White King. This has caused some backlash, with some critics saying that ignoring the race inequalities of the era is irresponsible. As a response, Regé-Jean Page, who plays the Duke, told the Today Show, “With color-conscious casting, I get to exist as a Black person in the world. It doesn’t mean I’m a slave. It doesn’t mean we have to focus on trauma. It just means we get to focus on Black joy and humanity.” Since the writers’ room is stacked with a fantastically diverse team, and the executive producer herself is a woman of color, there were no roadblocks to taking what Cocom wrote and adding their own creative spin to it. Thus, we are shown strong representation and a more complex and interesting world than what is normally portrayed in period romance shows.
There are also very outspoken feminist beliefs portrayed in the show. It’s one thing to have female characters stand up for themselves, like how Daphne punched an unwanted suitor, but it’s another thing to have characters, like Eloise, frequently speak out against the institution of marriage and the inequalities forced upon women during that time. The show takes place in the 18th century, but the Seneca Falls Declaration, which many believe was the start of the women’s equality movement in Britain, wasn’t drafted until 1848. The decision to make these characters so outspoken during a time before female equality was even tangible, could be the reflection of an almost all female writing staff and their desire to not only show how poorly women were treated, but also call it out. This choice ends up adding to the show because it makes it feel fresher than it would if the characters just ignored the gender inequalities. Also, just because there wasn’t an organized women’s movement at the time, didn’t mean it wasn’t talked about. Jane Austen was alive during this time period and chose not to marry, but to support herself with her writing, much like Eloise wishes to do. That fact could also be something they knew about and decided to run with.
While most period pieces ignore the existence of everyone who isn’t straight, Bridgerton avoids this trope. In episode five, Benedict, one of the main characters, is invited to a private gathering of painters where he finds his new acquaintance, Henry, sleeping with a man. Days later, Henry explains how agonizing it is for him and his male lover to act like strangers in public. Unlike with the diversity and feminism in Bridgerton, this aspect of the show wasn’t very embellished. During the 18th century, London had an extremely organized subculture of gay men meeting at private events to socialize and sleep with other men. Up until 1861, being gay was a capital offence under British law, so many of these gatherings would be raided by the police. Therefore, the depiction of the underground party as well as Henry’s heartbreaking need to hide his relationship was right on target. What’s interesting is how accepting Benedict, a man from a very sheltered family, is of Henry’s sexuality, but I’m sure we’ll find out more about that as the show progresses.
What made Bridgerton stand out to you? Let us know in the comments below.