Cancel your plans, Bridgerton's back!
Word has it that something scandalous is brewing, soon to be making its way to a screen near you. That’s right, the wait is over: series two of Bridgerton, the smash Netflix hit based on author Julia Quinn’s regency-era novels, is returning. And it promises to deliver all the glamour and gossip we loved so much about the first.
Quinn (real name Pottinger) is passionate about the historical romance genre. An avid reader herself, she began writing regency-era romance in the early nineties, as a way of providing light relief from the intensive science course she was studying to apply for medical school. Just a few weeks after accepting her place, she discovered that her first two novels had gone to auction. It didn’t take her long to realise that her passion was for swoon-worthy scenes rather than surgery, so she quit medicine and hasn’t looked back.
Now Quinn is one of the most successful romance authors (make that authors full stop) of all time. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide, she is a three-time recipient of the RITA award and, unusually for a romance author, has even been profiled in Time Magazine. Fun fact: she also won The Weakest Link in 2001, earning herself $79,000. More recently, her bestselling Bridgerton novels were adapted in a collaboration between Shondaland and Netflix, with the first season swiftly earning the title of most watched show of all time on the streaming service (until it was overtaken by Squid Game). Season Two has been hotly anticipated, and the pastel-painted regency drama will be hitting screens once more on the 25th of March. But just what is Bridgerton all about?
With the first title (The Duke and I) published in 2000, Quinn’s twelve book series follows the Bridgertons: a wealthy family of regency-era aristocrats, as they navigate their way through the pleasures and pitfalls of life as part of the ton (from the French ‘le bon ton’ meaning ‘good manners’ or ‘good style’). Poor Lady Bridgerton was made a widow when her husband passed away from a bee sting, leaving her with their alphabetically named brood of eight children to raise and marry off (say it with me: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Frances, Gregory, Hyacinth). Now half her offspring is out in society, at the mercy of the most notorious gossipmonger in London: Lady Whistledown, an anonymous pamphleteer who seems to know a curious amount about the intimate lives of the eligible elite.
Following the books, the Netflix series intends to focus on one Bridgerton sibling at a time. The first book/season told the story of Daphne, the eldest Bridgerton daughter, who is desperate to make a good marriage during her first season out in society. However, despite being declared a ‘diamond of the first water’, her efforts are hampered by her protective older brothers, and it seems as if the bachelors of the ton might be too wary to woo her. That is, of course, until she meets the dashing Duke of Hastings (played by the nation’s new crush Regé-Jean Page). He is determined to escape the hounding of aristocratic mothers with eligible daughters, and she to appear desirable, so they pretend to court. Of course, in classic ‘fake dating’ style, it is not long before their smouldering chemistry becomes all too real and after they are spotted sharing a *gasp* unchaste kiss in a rose garden, they must marry to avoid scandal and the ruining of Daphne’s good name. But marriage is not the end of Daphne’s problems, for it turns out that to spite his abusive father, the duke has sworn never to have children, although that doesn’t stop the two from starring in some seriously steamy scenes together. Daphne’s complete ignorance in terms of biology means she is a little slow on the uptake, but once she realises what the duke is about, she retaliates in an extremely controversial manner (which has sparked interesting discussions surrounding consent across the internet). However, all’s well that ends well, and by the end of the story we see them living once more in wedded bliss while producing their own spate of heirs.
Season Two will be based on the second book in the series, The Viscount Who Loved Me. This follows the story of the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony, who has been so traumatised by his father’s death that he is a) terrified of bees and b) convinced that, like his late Papa, he will not make it past his thirty-eighth birthday. Rejected by his mistress (a romance we saw play out during the first season of the show), he is resigned to his duty as a noble: finding a respectable woman to marry and producing an heir. Enter Edwina and Kate: Edwina is perfect in every way and has already been declared the diamond of the season but will not marry without her fiercely protective (step) sister Kate’s approval. As Anthony pursues Edwina, he finds himself pushed also into the path of Kate. But does their constant bickering with one another signal hatred, or something else entirely? Drawn to both women, Anthony must choose whether to follow his head, or his heart.
The hit show has been renewed for two more seasons, which will take us through Benedict and Colin’s stories respectively. If you can’t wait to find out what happens to the rest of the Bridgerton siblings, you will just have to read on!
Shonda Rhimes has of course made several artistic alterations when adapting Bridgerton for the big screen, while consulting closely with Quinn, who has declared herself overwhelmed by the show’s success. One key difference is that several characters come to the fore rather earlier than they do in the books, including Eloise’s best friend, Penelope Featherington, who dramatically reveals herself to the audience as Lady Whistledown in Season One’s closing scenes (something you have to wait for book four – Romancing Mr Bridgerton – to discover in print). Another is the diversity of the cast: in Shondaland’s Bridgerton, Regency-era Britain is reimagined as a nation in which Black people are part of the aristocracy, and a Black woman – Queen Charlotte, played by the wonderful Golda Rosheuvel – sits upon the throne. This deliberate decision has opened more opportunities for an array of talented actors and allows for an escape from the homogenous whiteness of most 19th century period dramas. Here’s hoping many more period dramas take the hint to follow suit.
As the countdown to Season Two finally ends, we will all be donning our silk gloves and filling up our dance cards in anticipation. But if you too have burned your way through the entire series, binged all that Netflix has to offer and are still desperate for more, then why not try Quinn’s Rokesby novels? Following the ‘family next door’, these books follow the Bridgertons’ neighbours – the Rokesby’s – in a Georgian prequel that features several of our favourite Bridgerton siblings as children.
And now, dearest reader, I must leave you. A gossip’s work is never done, and I have a very important appointment to keep with my sofa, a large cup of tea, and the ladies and gentlemen of the ton.