he thirst is real, if audience numbers are anything to go by. This week Netflix announced that by the end of its first four weeks on the streaming service, the vapours-inducing Regency-period drama Bridgerton would have been watched by 63 million households. That’s more even than the number that devour Lady Whistledown’s weekly society gossip sheet during the London season. As soon as the show landed on Christmas Day, social media lit up (and has sparkled ever since) with swooning posts, salivating over its luscious look, its raunchy romance and its outrageously hot leads, Phoebe Dynevor as debutante Daphne Bridgerton and (especially) the ridiculously gorgeous Regé-Jean Page as her sparring partner and love interest, Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings.
Why, for heaven’s sake? I loved it, because I’m a sucker for a silly, frilly romance with smart quips, Olympic-standard eyebrow raises and hot people having huge amounts of hot sex. But it’s not only me, and those aren’t the only reasons. Produced by Shonda Rhimes’s Shondaland outfit as part of a mega-deal with Netflix, Bridgerton has been hailed as a game-changer for period drama due to its colour-inclusive casting. Page is a black man; his godmother, Lady Danbury, is played by the black British actress Adjoa Andoh; Queen Charlotte is the wonderful Golda Rosheuvel, with plenty of lesser characters also portrayed by actors of colour.
Look, it’s not perfect, and it hasn’t ‘fixed telly’. Some commentators have noted that most of the leading characters of colour are lighter-skinned; that fewer of them have proper storylines; that though the question of race is explicitly raised in this fantasy version of Regency London society (the show takes and runs with the theory that Queen Charlotte was the first British royal with African lineage), it doesn’t really dig into it. No doubt this is deliberate, but it does not please everyone, and fair enough. But can it be a coincidence? It felt to me, before there wasn’t any theatre, that the people who put things on stage and screen were finally beginning to realise that if you cast people who look like people, people want to see your show. Bridgerton’s popularity is a shining, if imperfect, example of that. Here’s hoping that it changes the traditional image of the ‘bankable star’ for good.
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