The 1995 Christmas of Lanre Bakare was one to forget.
I was sick and mostly just sat on the sofa trying to eat small pies as my big sister worked her way through the Pride and Prejudice version of Andrew Davies’ VHS.
I had seen the Julian Amy version of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton a few years ago, but that was scary and unintentionally humorous at least; that was another level: Pemberley, Mr. Bingley, Jennifer Ehle in her hood, Colin Firth in a pond. This was like water torture for an 11-year-old who liked WWF and Rage Against the Machine. For years, the experience put me off costume dramas and Austen.
I was anathema to me for any sign of buttoned-up, stiff-upper-lip posturing and “We’re British” regentance nonsense. 25 years later, on Christmas Day, Bridgerton turned up. Unabashedly dumb, it revels in playing with costume dramas’ type and norms, infusing them with a modern plot and the kind of over-the-top staging I last saw in Marie Antoinette’s Sofia Coppola.
Via American eyes, the film sees the Regency era, showcasing the things you most enjoy about the tropes of the British aristocracy: the grandeur, the pomp and the gilded cages. Repressed lust is still on show, but it is countered by unpleasantly licentious humping and homoerotic wrestling. But there is far more to the series than heirs’ sex and procreation.
Bridgerton even managed to get me interested in the administrative concerns of the aristocrats of the 19th century. How does one cope with the dowries of one’s daughters squandered on ill-considered bets? When M’lady declines to pick a pig for slaughter, why do townspeople recoil in horror? When one has a ball to attend, how can one cover the telltale bump of an imminent illegitimate child? One of the best scenes is when, after she fails to educate her on the finer points of birds and bees, Daphne confronts her mother. I don’t think I’m going to reach for the Pride and Prejudice VHS anytime soon, but Bridgerton has made me reconsider what a costume drama can be, and probably thousands of others. “A Regency role-play that feels eerily predictable for pandemic Britain. “Jenny StevensBridgerton is literally enjoyable. Take the very first scene, in which debutante Daphne is waiting for her brother to escort her to London, while we watch him hump an opera singer against a tree with his knees pulled up.
That’s an incredible amount of ground covered in the first three minutes – in Cranford there was nothing like that, but you didn’t get an orchestral reimagination of Ariana Grande as a soundtrack as well. And so this very modern period drama begins; a romantic rollick set in London in 1813 that sounds eerily prescient for the British pandemic today.
It’s courtship season in Grosvenor Square, where girls “titled, chaste and innocent” flock to the capital to find a respectable male suitor – or be beset or beset by him. Potential partners, often in public locations, consult with chaperones and contact is strictly prohibited.
It’s not quite the same as meeting and pretending to “play sports” in the local park with a Hinge or Tinder match, but it doesn’t feel that far away either.
I wondered if audiences would watch London singles in fake Moncler bed coats with wool hats and thermoses in 2227 suffer socially distant park bench dates while hoping for a sly touch on the arm in a period drama about the great application season of the pandemic 2020/21. In dark times, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Bridgerton, has quenched a hunger not only for a little fluff, pomp and drama to soothe tired New Year’s spirits, but for the reality that chastity is very difficult, strict social rules make people unhappy, and that some people, especially the rich and wealthy, will eventually violate them.
She also managed to align the gaze of the audience fairly on the male and the female body.
It’s unusual to see on-screen sex representations where the men are as unclothed as the women are. Here, male tops are more bare than in the 1994 European tour of Take That; it takes a while to get used to seeing Viscount Bridgerton fully dressed. And while the lockdown continues and the lack of contact persists