Review: Bridgerton

Bridgerton was a surprise for me this month. I was unfamiliar with the Julia Quinn historical romance novels or the development of the eight-episode series on Netflix. Due to my fascination with princess fashion, this series was an easy sell. Like Reign, the show is bursting with colorful visuals of noble women dancing in glittering gowns and tiaras. It was a feast for the eyes with regal ladies, handsome lords, and bright colors reminiscent of gardens in springtime. The Regency era was a period of excessive romance and courting, which gives it the feel of a classic Disney Princess universe. The well-earned mature rating on the series, however, is not reminiscent of Disney at all. Like most direct-to-streaming live-action shows, the second half of Bridgerton has an abundance of mature content that is not appropriate for minors.

Cast of Bridgerton in a lovely garden

Daphne is essentially the princess of the Bridgerton family. She is a noble lady, but she fits all the tropes of a Disney Princess. She is innocent, kind, headstrong, and sincere. She even has a "Cinderella" inspired color palette with dresses in white, silver, and powder blue, which bring out her natural beauty and cause her to stand out from the bright colors and overbearing accessories adorning the other regal ladies in the show, particularly the Featheringtons. Daphne's innocence does not last long, as a lot happens over the course of these eight hours of episodes. After Queen Charlotte praises her for her flawless presentation, a ritual that was common for noble ladies during the Regency era, Daphne awaits a selection of suitors to court her. Unfortunately, her overbearing brother scares them all away, forcing her to pretend to be in a relationship with a handsome duke named Simon in the hopes that it would bring her more suitors. We all know this common Hallmark movie trope. A girl pretends to be in a relationship to win over another guy but falls for the "fake" relationship instead. As predictable as it was, I appreciate that Netflix did not try to string us along when we all knew that Daphne was not going to accept the proposal of a foreign prince. She marries Simon by the time season is barely halfway over.

For me, the first few episodes of Bridgerton were the most engaging. I enjoyed watching Daphne and Simon's unusual courtship as well as the lovely balls she attended for the courting season. The costume designers on this show went all out, giving each lady a multitude of tiaras and glittering gowns embroidered with flowers and bright colors. Regency era dresses have empire waistlines, which are flattering for just about any body type, making each dance a spectacle to behold. I am no history expert, but this show created a fantasy image of exactly how I would picture a Regency era courtship ball to look. Even the outdoor scenes were brightly lit and filled with pleasant imagery of parasols, gardens, and gowns. In contrast, the duke's world is much darker than Daphne's pastel-colored dreamland. The first few episodes are interspersed with flashbacks of his traumatic childhood. This dichotomy  foreshadows Daphne's loss of innocence after her world joins with Simon's in matrimony.

The second half of Bridgerton focuses on some of the questionable aspects of the Regency era, particularly that women were left ignorant about sex in the hopes that they would remain chaste until they are married. This affects Daphne after Simon tells her that he cannot have children and uses the "pull out" method during their post marital relations without her knowledge. Just before her wedding, Daphne's mother fails miserably to have the "birds and the bees" talk with her, something that she resents her for later. Innocence is one of the most appealing aspects of fairy tale princesses for me, but I don't think that needs to come with a complete lack of knowledge. As the show points out, making women ignorant is different from keeping them innocent. One is usually harmful, while the other can be charming. I appreciate this deconstruction of social customs, but at the same time, it took away some of the whimsy and mystery that the show's world created. With only eight episodes to tell such a complex story, it progressed a mile a minute, making me wish I could have remained as innocent as Daphne was when she was being courted.

Bridgerton is a visual feast for fans of fashion, princesses, and fairy tales. It features an idealized version of the Regency era with costumes that are stunning and over the top. At its core is a complicated love story that studies loss of innocence and makes us question whether innocence is caused by ignorance or lack of experience. The show features struggles of several other women who were also victims of their time period, such as Marina Thompson, who spends most of the series attempting to rush into a marriage while hiding her pregnancy. It was narrated by the recognizable voice of Julie Andrews, who plays a mystery character that publishes gossip amongst the ladies of court, who Daphne's sister spends a good deal of time and energy attempting to unmask. If you are looking for a romantic and colorful world with a dark underbelly, Bridgerton is the perfect binge for you. However, if you are underage or uncomfortable with mature content, it may be best to look elsewhere.

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