WARNING: Will contain spoilers for Series One
Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor as the Duke and Duchess of Hastings. Liam Daniel/Netflix
On Christmas Day Netflix launched a new original series 'Bridgerton' adapted from a collection of books written by Julia Quinn. Set during the regency period, this drama is based around the Bridgerton family made up of eight siblings and their mother the dowager Viscountess. This series follows the first book titled 'The Duke and I' about the eldest daughter, Daphne on her quest to find a love match amongst the ton of London.
One element to be applauded is the colour-blind casting. Most period dramas set in the 1800s are invariably whitewashed. This, as the critics of Bridgerton would say, is historically accurate. However being fiction, Bridgerton has taken a modern view on our Aristocracy, boldly allowing many of the characters to dream of love when concerning marriage. Sadly this was a rarity at the time. In my opinion there is no need to account for race, just an obligation to see the characters well cast.
Adjoa Andoh and Regé-Jean Page as Lady Danbury and Simon. Liam Daniel/Netflix
Having recently binge-read the books, I can applaud the choice for both Simon, the Duke of Hastings and Lady Danbury played by Regé-Jean Page and Adjoa Andoh respectively. They both portray their characters perfectly. Simon the distant yet dashing Duke with "an oddly penetrating gaze"* and Lady Danbury "the dragon of the ton"* who has "never been known to mince her words".* Together they prove that the requirement to be historical accurate is, in this case, unnecessary.
If I was to take the argument for historical accuracy, then surely the choice of music would need to be mentioned. In some of the ballroom scenes, 19th century music as been replaced with classical covers of modern songs. ‘Thank U, Next’ by Ariana Grande comes to mind. In terms of news coverage, all I have seen is praise for such a move. I myself must applaud as I have been listening to the covers on repeat for the last week. This was an effort I’m sure, to keep the drama light and modern rather than akin to a more Jane Austen style story. This in turn makes it more accessible to a wider audience. But back to my original point, if it is accuracy we are after then why only criticise the casting. Shouldn’t all elements be under equal scrutiny?
Within the show itself there are only two moments where race is mentioned. The more significant of the two is a conversation between Lady Danbury and the Duke of Hastings:
“We were two separate societies divided by colour until a king fell in love with one of us, look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become.”**
On my first viewing of the series I didn’t actually notice this scene but having viewed it again it’s almost infuriating. Within one short conversation they seem to undermine the entire point of colour-blind casting. It makes me wonder if it was only included to explain to the audience why they have included black characters in the Aristocracy, something unlikely in 19th century England. Of course I understand the political side of the argument and to her credit Shonda Rhimes as fought for fair casting for years (evident in of her previous shows including Grey’s Anatomy) but here it feels unnecessary to mention it. In one article by The New York Times they state:
"…the characters of “Bridgerton” never seem to forget their blackness but instead understand it as one of the many facets of their identity, while still thriving in Regency society. The show’s success proves that people of color do not have to be erased or exist solely as victims of racism in order for a British costume drama to flourish."**
In one sense it is wonderful to see how these characters, a Queen and a Duke no less, take their heritage in their stride but wasn’t the point to “suspend our racial perceptions”** and achieve a world in which race should not determin status, something we are still fighting for today. It’s popularity though does give me some faith that perhaps we are moving forward in this conversation and it will prove to studio executives that a show can both be multicultural and successful. In a similar way, 2017’s Wonder Woman proved that a female superhero could have her own movie and still achieve the ratings of its male dominated counterparts.
Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte. Liam Daniel/Netflix
Another actress to mention is Golda Rosheuvel who plays Queen Charlotte in the series. Although an historical figure, this character does not exist in the book therefore, I have no comparison as to the way she portrayed the character. But she should be applauded for providing a wonderfully witty and powerful black character in the series.
* Quoted directly from the Bridgerton book series by Julia Quinn