Why is Bridgerton so popular?

It still amazes me that the Netflix drama Bridgerton is an American production. It just seems so British. And who can be blamed for thinking that? It’s set in early 19th-century London and focuses on the love lives of the aristocratic Bridgerton family. Few things are more British, or perhaps English, than romanticising the aristocracy.

Bridgerton is no ordinary historical drama. It’s an alternative history that imagines regency high society as a paradise of racial integration. Some of the aristocratic and royal characters in seasons one and two are played by actors with Tamil, Guyanese, Ghanian, Zimbabwean and Montserratian ancestry.

If you know nothing about English history, you could be forgiven for believing that England was a completely white society in the 1800s. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. David Olusoga’s BBC series Black and British: a Forgotten History is a useful starting point for anyone who wants to know more. I think Bridgerton’s alternative 19th century is given an extra power by the fact that there really were people of South Asian and African ancestry living in England at that time.

So, what else is there to say about Bridgerton? Well, in my opinion it’s a good, solid romantic drama. Both seasons have a decent amount of will-they-won’t-they tension. Frankly, it’s always a relief when the main love interests get together. I find that waiting for them to come to their senses is like having an itch that can’t be scratched.

In case you’re wondering, Bridgerton is only a little like Downton Abbey and The Gilded Age. All three dramas are rather comforting and focus on fictional upper class families, but that’s where the similarity ends.

When Julian Fellowes made Downton and Gilded Age, he wove real history into the stories. In Downton there’s the sinking of the Titanic and then the First World War. In Gilded Age we see how Peggy Scott, a young Black writer, is discriminated against by White society.

In Bridgerton the main use of history is to create a restrictive social environment that presents exciting challenges for the young lovers. Their romances are constrained by numerous social rules. For example, an unmarried lady should never be alone with a gentleman. There is no sex before marriage, no dating, and nobody weds out of their social class. Bridgerton tells love stories that simply couldn’t exist in most places in modern Britain.

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