Written by Samra Karamustafic
Forget Us Weekly, Star, and The National Enquirer — the only tabloids that you should be paying attention to are the jaw-dropping society papers from the mysterious Lady Whistledown!
If you’ve browsed through Netflix in the last few weeks or spent any time on Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, you’ve probably seen a few mentions of Netflix’s newest period drama series, “Bridgerton”, which was released on Christmas Day. Based on the series of novels by Julia Quinn, “Bridgerton” revolves around — -- you guessed it — the affluent Bridgerton family, composed of eight siblings who must navigate regency London’s lavish and competitive marriage market. Alongside them are the Featheringtons, yet another wealthy and powerful family with their own adventures, antics and improprieties. To put it plainly, it’s “Gossip Girl” meets “Downton Abbey” but with corsets, balls and debutantes. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s scandalous, and it’s incredibly popular, evidenced by its #1 spot in the U.S. on Netflix, despite releasing in December 2020. But what, exactly, has gotten so many viewers across the world head-over-heels in love with what seems to be just another period drama?
Well, for starters, it’s definitely not just another period drama.
One of the very first things that makes “Bridgerton” stand out is its diverse casting, which you won’t find much of in other period pieces; and while a few critics and viewers were quick to call the show’s casting “historically inaccurate”, showrunner Chris Van Dusen and executive producer Betsy Beers wanted to put a more innovative and contemporary spin on the period piece. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Beers discussed the decision behind casting BIPOC actors for the show, saying “It’s not color-casting. We try to imagine history in the way we wanted to see it.” Van Dusen also added his own explanation behind the decision in an interview with USA Today, saying that they “wanted this show to reflect the world that we live in today.” Not only does this shine a spotlight on new and incredibly talented actors, but it also gives a refreshing and contemporary take on period pieces, because let’s face it: seeing the same actors cast in regency dramas over and over again can get a bit boring (no offense, Keira Knightley).
“Bridgerton” succeeds in reflecting the modern world by intertwining messages of female empowerment throughout the show, similar to the way that Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters have. Whether it’s Eloise Bridgerton refusing to live a confined and caged life by marrying or Daphne Birdgerton standing up to those who belittle her and believe her to be incapable of making her own choices, the show makes viewers well aware of how women were treated back then, but it refuses to make their female characters complaisant in such treatment.
As with any regency era project, there are plenty of dance scenes interspersed throughout the show for which you need some classical piece to be playing in the background. But, if you could’ve sworn that you heard “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande during one of the ballroom scenes, don’t worry: you were not hallucinating! It turns out that for the show’s soundtrack, the showrunners had the Vitamin String Quartet perform classical covers of some beloved modern hits, like Maroon 5’s ‘Girls Like You” and Billie Eilish’s “bad guy”. Not only is it a creative and unique choice on the showrunners’ part, but including these beloved modern hits with a classical spin certainly emphasizes the point that Bridgerton is, as Screen Rant puts, “a modern tale set in regency era London”.
Thanks to “Bridgerton”’s explosive debut and countless raving reviews from critics and viewers alike, Netflix has officially announced that there will be a second season of the period drama that will be focusing on Anthony, the oldest Bridgerton sibling.
But, if you find yourself having binge-watched season one in its entirety, and you’re unsure of what to watch next, look no further. Until the second season of Bridgerton graces our screens, read on for a list of shows and movies that you can stream in the meantime.
Where you can watch: Hulu
“The Great”, Hulu’s newest satirical drama, is loosely based on the life of Catherine the Great (played by Elle Fanning) and her rise to becoming Russia’s longest-ruling female leader — mainly by plotting to kill her bratty and selfish husband, Emperor Peter III (played by Nicholas Hoult). If you enjoyed the scandalous, witty, and somewhat-crude humor in “Bridgerton”, then this should be your next watch.
The Spanish Princess
Where you can watch: STARZ
Yes, I know that this is yet another show about some historical ruler from way back when, but trust me when I say that this is not like your typical History Channel documentary. “The Spanish Princess” follows a young Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess who would, later on, become the Queen of England as Henry VIII’s first wife. It’s a fictional retelling, which means that each episode is laden with drama and romance. Plus, the show deals with race in the era of Tudor England, considering that a major character in the show is Lina, a Black noblewoman that served as Catherine’s lady-in-waiting. “The Spanish Princess” is a limited series with only 16 episodes in its entirety, making it the perfect show to watch if you’re looking for a short show with a bit of closure.
Where you can watch: Apple TV+
If you’re a fan of period pieces and coming-of-age stories, then watching “Dickinson” is a must. This comedy follows the life of a young Emily Dickinson as she explores “the constraints of society, gender, and family from the perspective of a budding writer who doesn’t fit into her own time through her imaginative point of view.” With its contemporary dialogue and stunning wardrobe, the show isn’t afraid to bask in its fun and silliness.
Where you can watch: HBO Max
What is a list of period drama suggestions without at least one Jane Austen adaptation? “Emma.” (yes, the period is part of the title!) revolves around the story of Emma Woodhouse, a young woman (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) who devotes her time to matchmaking her friends and family members — so much so that she nearly misses out on her own chance at true love. If this plot sounds familiar, it’s most likely because you’ve already watched a classic, more contemporary adaptation: “Clueless”!
Granted, this film does take place in regency era England, but director Autumn de Wilde does not hold back on the comedic elements in Austen’s novel. The humor in this film does a great job of showing us that, although the story may take place in the 1800s, we humans were just as funny and awkward back then as we are today.
As people retreat to books, movies, and shows as a form of escapism amid the pandemic, there’s no easier way to put life on pause than by watching a period piece like “Bridgerton”. A (slightly romanticized) glimpse into life during the regency era offers enough of an escape for anyone bogged down in assignments and work projects. Plus, with shows like “Bridgerton” and “Dickinson” embracing diversity and putting more contemporary spins on these storylines, they make for more enjoyable experiences for viewers, too. So, the next time you’re struggling to pick what you should watch next, choose any period piece and get ready to be caught up in sweeping romances, gorgeous aesthetics, and some scandalous drama.