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What’s Worth Watching: ‘Bridgerton,’ Netflix’s Regency-era ‘Downton Abbey’

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 16, 2021

Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page star in “Bridgerton.”  (Liam Daniel/Netflix)
Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page star in “Bridgerton.” (Liam Daniel/Netflix)

If you’ve ever read or watched an adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice” and thought, “This would really be improved by (what felt like) an hour of sex scenes,” or “I wish every conversation between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet had been more sarcastic,” look no further than Netflix’s “Bridgerton.”

In place of Jane Austen’s Bennet sisters, we have the Bridgerton siblings: Antony (Jonathan Bailey), the well-meaning but deeply chauvinistic oldest brother; Benedict (Luke Thompson), the secret artist, aka the best brother; Colin (Luke Newton), the kind, naive brother; Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), “the diamond of the first water”; Eloise (Claudia Jessie), the sister who just wants to do something with her life; and three younger siblings who are also sometimes on screen.

Based on Julia Quinn’s New York Times bestselling series, “Bridgerton” is the Regency era, sex-forward “Downton Abbey” that, it seems, a lot of people have been waiting for. This show is so popular that TikTok users are already trying to make it into a musical, and it’s been streaming for less than one month.

Created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, Season 1 follows Daphne, the fourth of the Bridgerton siblings, as she enters her first season as a debutante. Despite the queen’s high praise, Daphne’s future is suddenly placed in jeopardy when Antony – her oldest brother, viscount and head of the Bridgerton household after their father’s untimely death – goes too far discouraging “unworthy” suitors during the season’s opening ball.

Faceless gossip columnist Lady Whistledown does little to help rumors surrounding Daphne’s situation. But when Daphne quite literally bumps into the newly titled and sworn-off-marriage Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), the two gradually form a secret – and confusing – alliance that will, hopefully, keep the “mamas” of London off the duke’s back while giving Daphne the social standing to secure a respectable offer of marriage.

So, one “suitor” remains, but will Daphne manage to secure her place as a woman in society after all, and what will Lady Whistledown say? If the series continues to follow Quinn’s storyline, subsequent seasons will follow the love lives of each of Daphne’s numerous siblings in turn. Some seem more worth looking forward to than others.

Antony is exhausting. You start the first episode thinking that Antony is going to be some sort of lovable rogue, but as he oscillates between ally and antagonist, first protecting and then willfully disregarding his sister’s best interest, you realize he’s just a rogue who thinks he’s lovable. And it’s unclear whether he’ll change.

“It should be just as easy for you to fall in love with Lord Berbrooke as with anyone else,” Antony tells Daphne in the first episode – his own doomed romance with opera singer Siena Rosso (Sabrina Bartlett) perhaps on his mind. Fun fact: Bartlett studied with Royal Opera House voice coach Paul Farringdon to sing for the role; the voice you hear in the series is actually hers.

Benedict is an ally. Of course, he stands up for Daphne from the beginning, but as the show goes on, he proves to be an “ally” in a more modern sense of the word, as well.

Colin is young, and because of his kindness and youth, he very nearly falls victim to another victim.

Eloise is aspirational and angry. She would much rather attend university and acquire accomplishments than enter the marriage market and lose what she sees as her only chance at freedom.

The other siblings are either too young or too absent to tell what sort of stories they might have in the future.

There is no end of drama in this series – even in the final episode, you’re left wondering whether Daphne and the Duke will get their happy ending – and almost all of the subplots are just as engaging.

Will Antony ever learn to respect the women around him? Will Benedict have to take on the title of viscount and forfeit his future? Will Colin be trapped in a loveless marriage? Will Eloise have to give up her education? And who in the Jane Austen world is Lady Whistledown?

“Bridgerton” is available to stream on Netflix. Quinn’s series, beginning with “The Duke & I,” is currently backordered but will be available online through Auntie’s.

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