Move over Mr Darcy… it’s the sauciest Regency drama ever! Corset-busting young ladies, beefcakes in breeches and lashings of sex and scandal – new drama Bridgerton would have Jane Austen clutching her smelling salts
It has been hailed as the new Pride And Prejudice and, like Jane Austen’s masterpiece, period drama Bridgerton is full of romance, scandal, clever heroines and dashing young men.
But the lavish Netflix show, based on Julia Quinn’s novels and available to watch from Christmas Day, is much sexier. Nicole Lampert compares the two…
SISTERS DESIRING A SUITABLE SUITOR
The aristocrats in Bridgerton would look down on Elizabeth Bennet. Pride And Prejudice was about the Bennet sisters and their need to find a ‘suitable match’, especially as there was no son to inherit their father’s small fortune. Bridgerton is also about finding the right marriage for a young lady, but on a much grander scale.
Jane Austen’s heroines were upper-middle class and while Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley were rich, neither had a title. The Bridgertons are several rungs above them in society. They are part of The Ton, the Regency period’s most fashionable, talked-about aristocratic set, and there is a small window each year — ‘the London season’ — in which teenage debutantes must try to find someone to marry at one of the lavish balls held by the wealthiest families.
A moment of passion in the new Netflix series Bridgerton, which starts on the site on Christmas Day
The series focuses on the ‘coming out’ of Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) in 1813
The series focuses on the ‘coming out’ of Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) in 1813, the year Pride And Prejudice was first published. The older Bennet sisters ideally need to find someone wealthy enough to keep them and their family, but Daphne’s brother has inherited his father’s estate so she doesn’t have to find someone quite as loaded as she is. The man she marries will set the tone for the rest of her family, though — if she makes the right match, her sisters will be instantly more desirable.
Unfortunately, her elder brother, Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) is so quick to turn down Daphne’s initial suitors because they are either not rich enough, titled enough or nice enough, that soon she is left with just one rather poor offer on the table, from a man she cannot love.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Hastings Simon Bassett (Rege-Jean Page), the most eligible bachelor in town, is a bit of a rake who is determined never to marry. Daphne’s brother is Simon’s best friend and she and the duke develop a sparky relationship, with each deeming the other too proud.
Then they realise they can help each other out with a clever ruse. If the duke pretends he is courting Daphne, it will get the irritating mothers of would-be brides off his back and make Daphne more desirable to potential suitors.
Elsewhere, things are not going so well for the Bridgertons’ neighbours. Lord Featherington (Ben Miller) never quite has enough money, his daughters are not clever or beautiful enough to attract the right suitors, and he has no heir. Then a scandal erupts that could see the whole family ostracised.
Lord Featherington (Ben Miller) never quite has enough money, his daughters are not clever or beautiful enough to attract the right suitors, and he has no heir. Then a scandal erupts that could see the whole family ostracised
DARK, BROODING, BYRONIC HEROES
As a tall, dark, handsome Duke, Simon Bassett struts rather than walks into a room. He knows all eyes will be on him, all will defer to his status, and even the Queen is a little overawed by his charisma. But beneath the arrogance is a troubled young man who was rejected by his father. ‘He has a stormy, troubled, untameable soul,’ says Rege-Jean.
Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy is arrogant, too. He seems proud and quick to judge but later shows his kindness. Clearly, all each needs is the love of a good woman. Mr Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, emerged from a small lake on his country estate in a see-through wet shirt, only to come face to face with a panting Elizabeth Bennet.
But we see far more of the duke. In early scenes he can be spotted topless — he is a boxing fan and often takes out his frustration in the ring. But later on there is even more of him to look out for.
THE WHIFF OF A SEX SCANDAL…
Cancel culture existed long before social media, especially for women. One kiss out of place could lead to someone becoming a social pariah and jeopardise the future of their family — which is a common theme in both stories.
In Pride And Prejudice, the rakishly charming George Wickham briefly entices Elizabeth but she has a lucky escape. She finds out he had already charmed Darcy’s sister Georgiana — then just 15 — into promising to run away to Gretna Green with him. Then her little sister Lydia runs away with him and the family’s name is saved only by the timely intervention of Mr Darcy.
In Bridgerton the situation is even more perilous. When Daphne is discovered kissing a suitor in the gardens, a duel is arranged. And when Featherington family friend Miss Thompson (Ruby Barker) is found to be pregnant, chaos ensues.
Trouble brewing: Is it a fine romance for Miss Thompson, right?
Pictured left to right: Harriet Cains and Phillipa Featherington, Bessie Carter as Prudence Featherington and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington
The world of Bridgerton is far racier than that of Jane Austen — but it perhaps befits the Regency period in which, because the King had gone mad, his debauched son was running the show. One study found that by 1800 almost 40 per cent of supposedly virginal brides were pregnant and almost 25 per cent of first children were born out of wedlock.
In one of the first scenes we see Daphne’s brother Anthony in bed with his opera singer lover. And another brother, Benedict (Luke Thompson) falls under the spell of the bohemian art crowd, with their orgies and threesomes. Pass the smelling salts, Mrs Bennet!
SCENES ALL SET FOR INTIMACY
Bridgerton goes into the nitty-gritty of what happens when a girl who has no idea what sex is has to perform on her wedding night with a man who is a virtual stranger.
To help with the many sex scenes, intimacy expert Lizzy Talbot was hired.
‘You start fully clothed and then as you take your clothes off, Lizzy brings out her bag of things to help,’ says Jonathan Bailey. ‘There are yoga balls, small mats and cushions which mean you aren’t on top of each other — there is a three-layer barrier. Everything is choreographed and checked by the director, then a contract is signed explaining exactly what the actor is happy to do.’
Magnificent stately piles:
Almost as ravishing as the heroes and heroines are the houses in costume dramas.
The BBC’s Pride And Prejudice had Lyme Park in Cheshire, a Tudor house transformed into an Italianate palace, doubling for Darcy’s estate, Pemberley.
Edgcote House in Northamptonshire, built on top of the former home of Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves, was used for Bingley’s home, Netherfield. The Bennets’ more modest cottage, Longbourne, was Luckington Court in Wiltshire, which went on the market two years ago for £9 million.
Castle Howard in Yorkshire is the Duke of Hasting’s country house, Clyvedon Castle
In Bridgerton, Wilton House near Salisbury, a 9th-century former nunnery owned by the Earl and Countess of Pembroke, appears as Hastings House, the Duke of Hastings’s London mansion, while magnificent Castle Howard in Yorkshire is his country mansion, Clyvedon Castle.
A house on Royal Crescent in Bath features as the Featheringtons’ London home, while the exterior of the elegant Ranger’s House in Greenwich was used for the Bridgerton family’s London residence.
Other stunning venues to appear in Bridgerton include Syon House, Hampton Court Palace and Lancaster House.
TWO HAUGHTY HEROINES…
Elizabeth Bennet has to overcome her own pride and prejudice before she is ready to encounter love. Witty and beautiful, she is also quick to judge as she goes on a journey through heartbreak to discover the true meaning of manners.
Bridgerton’s Daphne is equally clever and beautiful. She is one of the few to stand up to the duke, who admires her refusal to simper in his presence. She gets her confidence from her mother, Lady Violet (Ruth Gemmell).
… TWO AUTHORS WHO INNOVATED
When Jane Austen, born in 1775, was writing, British women didn’t even have the legal power to sign contracts. The idea of a woman writing for money was deemed beyond the pale; all her books were published anonymously in her lifetime.
Austen’s books have the idea of marrying for love at their heart but are not romance novels. They are often satires on contemporary life, which could be harsh. Many of her minor characters marry out of necessity.
Austen is believed to have been in love once; with the Irish-born relative of a neighbour, Tom Lefroy. He is rumoured to have inspired Pride And Prejudice hero Darcy. But as neither had any money, the match could not go ahead.
She was later proposed to by family friend Harris Bigg-Wither. His wealth could have secured the future for her entire family but she was not in love and, a day after accepting his proposal, she changed her mind. She, her sister and her mother were dependent on the largesse of her brother even as she started to make money through her work. Jane died in 1817 aged just 41.
Bridgerton creator Julia Quinn (real name Julie Pottinger) was born in 1970 in New England. After deciding to become a doctor, she began writing Regency romance novels to lighten days of dull science lessons. Soon after she was accepted to medical school, two of her novels were sold at auction.
She has since written nearly 40 books, almost all set in Regency England. ‘I’m not going to change the world with my writing but I can change someone’s afternoon,’ she has said, ‘and readers tell me my books have shown them they deserve a partner who treats them well.’
- Bridgerton starts on Netflix on Christmas Day.
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