fb-pixel Skip to main content

Having a ball with the contemporary sensibility of ‘Bridgerton’

Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page in "Bridgerton."Liam Daniel/Netflix

So: “Bridgerton,” which premiered on Netflix while I was on staycation. I was not madly in love with the show, but I was endlessly amused by it. Adapted from the novels of Julia Quinn, it’s about love among the wealthy in England in the 1810s — or, more specifically, about love and sex, with enough nudity to make Jane Austen plotz. From producer Shonda Rhimes, and featuring her colorblind casting, it brings a contemporary sensibility to the kind of melodrama that has kept PBS’s “Masterpiece” and local art houses busy for decades. It’s like “Dickinson,” but better, and it’s like “The Great,” but not as good.

Heroine Daphne Bridgerton is the eldest in a noble family, and of marrying age. She and the moody, impossibly handsome Duke of Hastings, who is new to town, pretend to be in a courtship, in order to save her from an unwanted proposal from a wealthy boor. Figured it out? Daphne and the Duke are actually falling in love, but pretending not to be in order to pretend to be — or something like that. Meanwhile, the omniscient but mysterious Lady Whistledown, who is voiced by Julie Andrews, publishes all the gossip she is privy to, much like the titular scandal-monger on “Gossip Girl.” She tracks the relationship between Daphne and the Duke, along with all the other local flirtations and broken hearts fit to print.


Part of the pleasure of period pieces is the withheld emotions and hidden lusts. The dancing at balls — and there are a ton of balls in “Bridgerton” — tends to be the closest pre-modern characters such as these come to physical contact. Lovers must communicate with glances and smiles, which provides a nice tension. “Bridgerton” releases its characters from those straits, which, as a viewer, feels liberating at times; it’s shocking to realize that, while the men have active sex lives, including the Duke, Daphne has no idea how babies are made. At the same time, there are some embarrassing moments when the sex seems a bit too body-ripping. I cringed as much as I laughed through the first season — but reader, I was never bored.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.