We’ve heard about it; we’ve binged it; we’re still obsessing over it. Bridgerton was released on Christmas Day and was immediately a hit – in fact, Netflix claims that 82 million households have watched the show. Viewers have clearly enjoyed the sexy, luxurious, and extravagant world produced by Chris Van Dusen and Shonda Rhimes, and everyone is now looking forward to a second series, which was confirmed on 21 January.
But what do we know about the best-selling books that inspired the show? The series created by Julia Quinn comprises of eight books, each of which focuses on the romantic adventures of one of the Bridgerton siblings. Season one is mainly based on the first novel, The Duke and I, which narrates the love story of Miss Daphne Bridgerton (portrayed in Bridgerton by Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page).
As many people know, film or TV adaptations do not often do justice to the books they are based on (yes, Percy Jackson, I am talking about you). However, having read The Duke and I and watched Bridgerton back-to-back, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the TV show was actually more interesting and enjoyable than the novel, and, by comparing the first season to its source material, there are five reasons why this is the case.
1. Multiple storylines
In The Duke and I, the plot revolves solely around Simon and Daphne, while the other characters play very minor roles. For example, most of Daphne’s siblings are no more than a name on a page, and only have a role in relation to Simon and Daphne’s relationship. This results in a rather tiring narrative, and the unfolding of the central romance is predictable and often repetitive. In Bridgerton, though the focus is mainly on the Duke and the soon-to-be Duchess, each character has their own storyline which is independent of the main love story. Doing so not only keeps the viewers interested and involved, but it also provides details about characters that, otherwise, we would not know very much about.
2. Anthony is a picky brother-in-law
Daphne is described by Quinn as beautiful, smart, and kind, however, in two seasons as a debutante, she has not received one decent marriage proposal. Though it sounds completely unrealistic, it’s apparently because everyone thinks of her as a friend. On the contrary, Bridgerton provides a more credible explanation as to why Daphne, despite all her good qualities that earn her the title of ‘diamond of the season’, struggles to be courted – her eldest brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) wants only the best for her and scares all the suitors away.
3. Lady Whistledown
Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) is the great mystery of Bridgerton. Some admire her, most despise her, but everyone wants to know who she is. Lady Whisteldown is a wild card, because no one can predict what she is going to write. Her identity is matter of obsession not only for the people of ‘the Ton’, but also for the viewers; it’s a clever device in keeping people interested and engaged. In The Duke and I, Lady Whistledown is mentioned in the first chapter, but no one seems to care much about who she really is, thus becoming just another name amongst all the other minor characters.
4. Eloise Bridgerton
Of all the strong female characters in the show, Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) is the feminist champion we were all waiting for. She is witty, determined, and unapologetically direct, representing a breath of fresh air amongst all the debutantes’ expertise in the “art of the swoon”. Eloise speaks her mind and is not afraid of using her own voice, as she demonstrates two minutes into the show, when she iconically urges Daphne to “MAKE HASTE!”. Nevertheless, Eloise, who longs “to nurture [her] mind”, barely makes an appearance in The Duke and I, depriving us all of an incredibly strong and inspiring character that would have definitely livened up the rather predictable plot.
5. Daphne and Simon’s romance
I cannot stress it enough: The Duke and I is predictable. From Chapter Three, the reader already knows how the romance between Simon and Daphne is going to unfold and their feelings develop quickly. In Bridgerton, nonetheless, the love between the two main characters grows more slowly, and it is tested by the interference of Nigel Berbrook (Jamie Beamish) and Prince Friederich (Freddie Stroma). As the Duke explains to the Queen, theirs was not love at first sight. Furthermore, the focus on Daphne’s sexual attraction towards Simon, from when he licks a spoon to when he rolls up his sleeves at Will’s boxing match, not only helps build up the tension and chemistry between the two, but it also shows that, yes, women can, and should, get excited.
In Bridgerton, like in The Duke and I, Daphne rapes Simon. This was the moment the novel was completely ruined for me and, as I understand from reviews on Goodreads, for many other readers too. In the show, although Simon is not drunk and does not shout “No!” as in the book, Daphne still pins him down amidst his “wait-wait”, forcing him to ejaculate inside her. What disappointed me the most about this scene is that, even though Simon and Daphne’s relationship is temporarily compromised, she shows no regret for her actions and no one voices why she should not have done it, especially when the pair reconcile. In my opinion, this would have been a great opportunity to address consent and start a conversation with millions of viewers about an issue that is unfortunately very much embedded in our society.
So, while Bridgerton has clearly succeeded in the impossible task of producing an adaptation that is better than the book and deserves credit for it, there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to relevant, important topics like consent. Let’s hope that the second season will keep the intriguing and sexy atmosphere of the first, whilst appropriately addressing social issues and conflicts, in turn rendering the show less frivolous and superficial.
Words by Beatrice Massa