Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed Wintering by Katherine May. Tina liked the setting more than the characters in Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. Jean took us to the Blazing-World via what she called a proto-science-fiction novel from 1666: The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
I learned that Bridgerton, based on Julia Quinn’s romance novels set during the Regency Era, would be coming to Netflix from Heather’s post on her Based on a True Story blog a few weeks ago.
It wasn’t until I read the opening credits that I realized that Bridgerton was a Shondaland production. Shonda Rhimes is a television showrunner, most known for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She’s also a black woman who has changed Hollywood’s perception of who is capable of making successful TV.
Knowing that, I suddenly had a burning question: how would Bridgerton handle something that is rarely covered in Regency novels? All of those lavish parties, gorgeous gowns, and still-standing architectural masterpieces were funded by the triangular slave trade.
The answer was unconventional casting. The male lead character is played by Regé-Jean Page who was born in London, reared in Zimbabwe where his mother was from, and educated as an older youth back in England. His character, the Duke of Hastings, is mentored by the insightful Lady Danbury, played by Adjoa Andoh who I know best as Francine Jones, mother of Dr. Who companion, Martha Jones. Queen Charlotte, the wife of mad King George III, is played by Golda Rosheuvel, a Guyanese-British actress with a long list of stage credits, who I recognized as a guest on some of my favorite British TV shows (Torchwood, Rev, Silent Witness).
Black people as members of the British aristocracy and nobility is only mentioned in conversation a couple of times in the series, making it clear that black members of the Ton don’t feel fully secure in their position. But we get only the barest hints about how this came to be. So, it presents the viewer with the opportunity to ask questions about alternate histories. What would our world be like if British society had embraced diversity in the early 19th century? Presumably, slavery would have ended a lot earlier. Or, perhaps, in this world, it never developed. How would that have changed our modern world? Could that be the basis of a vision for our future?
None of those alternate history ruminations, however, competed with the deliciousness of seeing a romance novel play out on screen. Bridgerton has one of my favorite romance plots — the agreement of the hero and heroine to pretend that they like each other more than they do in order to solve some conundrum that society has put them in. It’s a romance novel, so you know that it’s going to turn out that pretending becomes awkward reality. The fun part, for me, lies in all that awkwardness.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, check out the trailer for a good sense of the sumptuousness of the production. Oh, and I guarantee that you’ll recognize the narrator’s voice.
Watching this made me very curious about filming locations. I recognized some places as being in Bath. Fortunately, the Wikipedia article goes into great detail, complete with links so that we can spend a wonderful hour or so traveling virtually through England.