Here at the blog, I began reviewing books that I have recently read. Now, I’ve decided to give streaming shows that I have enjoyed the same treatment, and recommend them here! The first entry in what I’ll call ‘The Perfect Binge’ is season two of Netflix’s Shondaland drama, Bridgerton.
Bridgerton: Regency Romance Reinvented
I’ve long been a fan of Shonda Rhimes. I devoured her first hit ABC series, Grey’s Anatomy, every week during its first season, when I was a junior in high school. My mother did not exactly approve of me watching a show in which doctors hook up in hospital supply closets, to which I argued she herself was a longtime viewer of General Hospital-what was the difference? Did you win many arguments as a teenager? No, nor did I. But, years later, my family was able to share Ms. Rhymes’ series Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. Both were appointment television, along with shows that sadly didn’t have as long a run, the Romeo and Juliet sequel Still Star-Crossed and witty heist comedy-drama The Chase.
When I began seeing adverts for a new Shonda Rhimes drama premiering on Netflix Christmas Day 2020, Bridgerton “had me at hello” even though I had never heard of the source material before! I’d read all of one Regency romance in my life, a loaner from a classmate in my senior year of high school, and one Georgette Heyer novel I couldn’t quite get into. However, I love a good costume drama. If there is a film adaptation of a work by the Brontes or Jane Austen on television, or a drama by Julian Fellowes, Jane Campion, or Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, I am there!
My family tuned in and fell in love with the story of Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest daughter of a late viscount, falling for the wealthy and mysterious, Byronic Duke Simon Bassett. As we, and the world soon saw, Bridgerton was not quite like any historical drama that’s come before it, but the sum of many influences, too. It has the diverse casting of Broadway’s Hamilton, costumes and music with modern influences like CW’s Reign, the racy romance of Starz’s Outlander, all with a feminist lens held up to the rituals of courtship in Regency England. A second season debuted in 2022, and this time Daphne’s elder brother, Anthony, was the romantic lead.
Season 2’s Source Material
The series is based on romance novelist Julia Quinn’s series of interconnected romance novels about the aristocratic 19th century Bridgerton family. Season one was adapted from Quinn’s The Duke and I, and Season 2 is inspired by its sequel, The Viscount Who Loved Me (gotta love those punny titles, playing on classic films and music). In the novel, the Sheffield sisters Kate and Edwina both debut during London’s Season, the time when the noble set shifted from their countryside estates to the amusements of London. Both girls are shepherded by their widowed stepmother, Mary. Kate is bookish, and Edwina is more of a traditional debutante who seems destined to make an advantageous match with someone titled-someone like Viscount Anthony Bridgerton, who’s intent on taming his rakish ways and settling down for the good of the family name.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, in which bluestocking Kate and reformed rake Anthony butt heads and get swept into improbable hijinks until they fall for each other. He does initially pursue Edwina, but neither of their hearts are in it; she’s secretly already spoken for, smitten with a poor university student of mathematics! Once Kate and Anthony marry, the tone of the book becomes far more serious as they both help each other deal with the resurfaced traumas of their childhoods.
How the Plot Diverges Onscreen
For the TV adaptation, the Sheffields are now the Sharma family. Mary, once the ‘diamond of the first water’ of her debut season like Daphne was in season 1, forsook more advantageous matches to marry a widowed clerk with a daughter, Kate, from a previous marriage. Her aristocratic family disowned her, and she, Kate, and younger daughter Edwina have only just returned to England from India, for Edwina to debut and make a match.
What Kate and Mary are keeping from her is that Mary’s parents have promised to settle an inheritance on Edwina if she does what Mary failed to do, and marry an aristocratic partner. When Edwinas is chosen as the diamond-the debutante to win Queen Charlotte’s special favor-all eyes are on her, including those of Anthony who thinks she will be the perfect Viscountess Bridgerton.
Anthony’s pursuit of Edwina is bloodless, whereas his verbal skirmishes with Kate are charged with passion they both deny throughout the season.
The Bridgerton siblings and their neighbors, the Featheringtons, nearly all have engaging side stories that deepen their characterization from their introductions in season one. Rebellious middle sister Eloise is also making her debut, but clandestinely exploring her interest in radical politics. She falls for a printer’s assistant, which brings her into the crosshairs of Queen Charlotte’s pursuit to find out who the gossip columnist Lady Whistledown is. Of course, the poison pen who’s been airing high society’s dirty laundry is none other than Eloise’s best friend, Penelope Featherington!
Penelope and her family are, as ever, embroiled in schemes to keep their dwindling fortune, this time posing a financial threat to younger Bridgerton brother, and Penelope’s crush, Colin.
Second Bridgerton son Benedict continues the bohemian lifestyle he began in season one, living it up as a student at the Royal Academy of Art. Fan favorite season one Daphne makes several appearances, although sadly without the beloved Duke by her side.
The narratives weave in and out of each other, and culminate symbiotically, with the kind of ease and building tension that makes family dramas in the vein of This is Us and A Million Little Things compelling: these are people who matter to each other, and when someone in their midst has a heartbreak, a dream, a secret, or commits a betrayal the ripple effect is felt by all. This was definitely evident in season one, but the formula has only been improved in season two as each character gets more of the spotlight.
The main pairing, Kate and Anthony, do not have quite the same story as in The Viscount Who Loved Me, making their plight even more dramatic. Kate is not of noble birth herself, so her prospects are even dimmer than in the novel, putting Anthony far out of her reach in the eyes of society around them. This paints her begrudging encouragement of Anthony’s and Edwina’s courtship as a subconscious attempt to live vicariously through her sister, all while denying her own feelings out of duty. Anthony, too, keeps a stranglehold on his feelings due to his fears of love stemming from his father’s death. Kate and Anthony are both trying to act nobly, but their passion continues to threaten Edwina’s prospects of a good marriage and reputation in society. It all inevitably explodes into a hairball of revelations and confrontations at Edwina’s and Anthony’s botched wedding.
As the show approaches its season finale, it’s truly touching how the Sharma and Bridgerton families forgive and come together as they weather social ostracism. True love wins out, and the stage is set for season three!
Bridgerton Season 2 is the Perfect Binge if…
If you enjoyed season one, if you love the dramatic romance of period dramas and historical romance novels, if you’re looking for a touching family drama, and if you have some free time with the people you love-its best watched with a group so you can debate the characters’ actions and exclaim at all the plot twists!
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