“It has to be said that of all the bitches, dead or alive, a scribbling woman is the most canine.” Even a voiceover by Julie Andrews can’t make that sound like Jane Austen. While Austen imbued plots about netting a fine husband with the most piercing investigations into the nature of the self in society, Bridgerton just goes for the husband bit. We alight in CGI Georgian London in an exhausting melee of frocks. Too many Machiavellian mamas, too many debutantes. But that’s exactly the point — this cloud of tulle-clad is about to smother the young gentlemen of the “ton”.
Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) has a flotilla of daughters to launch on the waters of matrimony, and her flagship is the flawless Daphne. Even the regally bored Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) perks up momentarily when the girl is presented at court. However, a malicious gossip sheet penned by the pseudonymous “Lady Whistledown” seems determined to scuttle her prospects.
Pointing out the historical flaws in Bridgerton, created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, is like saying an Adam Ant video doesn’t present an authentic view of life as a 17th-century pirate. In the ballroom scenes everybody just looks like a modern Londoner in fancy dress. Arch, cod-Austen dialogue is soggy, not tart: “The London season is already terribly monotonous . . . must your wardrobe do the same?” a lady admonishes a sombre duke. Would a young lord address his father as “You fucking monster?” Well, maybe. Our view of the period is filtered through Austen, and she was filtered through contemporary publishing mores. My all-time favourite cartoon has a publisher informing a prim woman complete with bonnet and reticule: “We love the book, Miss Austen, but all the effing and blinding will have to go.”
If you're pernickety about how to address nobles, or the correct depth of a curtsy, you won’t enjoy this much, but once you relax your grip on the historical data it becomes good fun. Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) is as interesting as plain yoghurt at the start, but shows signs of Lizzie Bennet-like development, and fellow debutante, bookish, fat-shamed Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) is adorable. Adjoa Andoh is magnificent as the manipulative society matron Lady Danbury, despite some duff lines (“There you are, alive and breathing!”) The writers have doubled down on a mere Mr Darcy; the big squeeze here is a duke, no less, and Regé-Jean Page is eminently breeches-worthy as the marriage-averse grandee. Daphne’s stormily intense brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) ain’t half bad either. But oh, the dialogue. “I agree on one condition — that you call me Simon.” Even Daphne can’t keep a straight face at that one.
On Netflix from December 25
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