IF you enjoyed “Belgravia”, a mini series on the secrets and scandals among London’s high society in the 1840s by British writer-director Jullian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey”, then you’d most probably also like “Bridgerton”, an adaptation of the Julia Quinn collection of historical romance novels.
It starts with Book One, “The Duke and I”, that’s also about scandals during the Regency era in London set in 1813 at the time when debutantes are presented to the queen so they can be matched with their prospective husbands. The surprising thing is that “Bridgerton” is created by Cris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rimes, both Americans. They’re best known for the long-running hit dramas, “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy”.
The lead female character is Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest of four daughters of the Bridgerton family headed by Lady Violet (Ruth Gemmell), a widow. She has four sons: Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), Benedict (Luke Thompson), Colin (Luke Newton) and Gregory (Will Tilston). Aside from Daphne, she also has three other younger daughters: Eloise (Claudia Jessie), Francesca (Ruby Stokes) and Hyacinth (Florence Hunt).
All of them will be individually starring in their own story in the Bridgerton collection of 8 books. And since this first book is very successful on Netfix, we won’t be surprised if they’d soon do Book 2.
Among the young ladies presented to Queen Charlotte are the three daughters of Lady Portia Featherington (Polly Walker): Philippa (Harriet Cains), Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Penelope (Niccola Coughlan). Their father, Baron Featherington (Ben Miller) is an incorrigible gambler who has put their family deep in debt and will pay for it dearly.
During the presentation in the royal court, the queen chooses Daphne as the best debutante, calling her a “flawless diamond”, giving her an edge over the other debutantes. The queen’s nephew, Prince Friedrich of Prussia (Freddie Stroma), comes to visit and the queen tries to match him with Daphne.
But also in town is Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page), one of the most eligible bachelors in London and a lot of debs and their moms want to catch his attention. Anthony, Daphne’s eldest and overprotective brother, tries to interfere with her possible choices when he himself is having a steamy affair with an opera singer named Sienna Rosso (Sabrina Bartlett).
Another newcomer in town is the niece of Baron Featherington, Miss Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker), who’s also looking for a prospective groom. Lady Portia discovers that she is already pregnant and tries to marry her off to an elderly gentleman, but she rejects it and instead takes fancy on young Colin Bridgerton who has no inkling she’s already with child.
Amidst all this hullabaloo, a scandal sheet written by a mysterious gossip known as Lady Whistledown (voice by Julie Andrews, who acts as the show’s narrator) circulates in London, monitoring every colorful move of its denizens.
Daphne and Simon connive to make it appear that they are about to get hitched with each other. This is to drive away any possible suitors for her and to discourage eager social climbing young ladies who want to flirt with Simon. But you know how stories like this go. Soon, Daphne and Simon can no longer hide their true feelings for each other.
The show is filled with juicy, sensational elements: the opulent production design with its lavish balls and elegant costumes showing a world of privilege, all the gossiping and backstabbing, the touching back stories of Simon and Marina, plus the torrid love scenes with lots of nudity and sizzling acrobatics in bed.
The ensemble cast is superb, all of them dishing out witty one-liners and cutting insults quite expertly. Phoebe Dynevor is perfect as the slim and lovable Daphne who is also smart, kind, but naive when it comes to bedside manners as she doesn’t even know how babies are made. And she has solid chemistry with Page who must be the best looking young black actor active in Hollywood today.
The show takes a lot of liberties and gives it a contemporary treatment, like using instrumental versions of modern songs such as “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” and “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish that sound out of place in its milieu.
Not only that, the queen of England is played by a black actress (Golda Rosheuvel), the leading man himself is a very good looking black guy and there are so many black and Asian actors in the cast you’d think England is already so well integrated during that era and has no racial discrimination problems.
Using Julie Andrews as narrator is most welcome as she lends a playful aura of mischief in the shenanigans of the various characters, reminding us of how can we ever solve a problem like Maria, how do you catch a cloud and pin it down? This makes the show even more of a true guilty pleasure!