On Christmas Day 2020, Netflix gave the viewing public the gift of the first season of Bridgerton.
The show was met with a wave of both adoration and scorn, which is unsurprising, considering the unashamed ’90s romance novel vibe of the series. Although the era of Fabio lookalikes wearing billowing, unbuttoned shirts on book covers is over, the desire to see handsome men falling in love with beautiful women lives on.
Bridgerton is interesting in that it combines the prestige of the period drama with the unabashed trashiness of TV shows such as Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars.
This mixture of high and low art has repulsed some viewers, but in a way it’s precisely what makes the show work. The audience can indulge in the fantasy of being Regency ladies while keeping their neon colours and 21st-century makeup.
While the first season has its appeal, the second builds on it in both good and bad ways.
Season 2 focuses mainly on the romantic journey of the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey). Being the head of the Bridgerton household and a viscount, he intends to marry well, but he ends up experiencing romantic tension with a new woman in his life.
Meanwhile, London has yet to discover the identity of the local gossip writer Lady Whistledown.
Rather than once again centring around Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), this season brings in a new character, Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), as she develops a relationship with Daphne’s eldest brother, Anthony, as he courts her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran).
Kate is an engaging character to watch because she represents a Regency archetype that wasn’t explored in the first season, the spinster. Kate is considered past her prime, and people assume that she’ll never marry – keep in mind that she is 26 years old.
Aside from her unique character, Ashley performs the role well, and her chemistry with Bailey is lovely. Kate is by far the season’s greatest asset.
However, some of the last season’s characters remain particularly frustrating. Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) and Lady Featherington (Polly Walker) are portrayed sympathetically, but their actions are questionable.
Lady Featherington is an aggravating person, given her deceit and mistreatment of everyone in her life, whereas Eloise is a notable example of the “not like other girls” period drama archetype.
Although the smart, independent young heroine can work in this genre – Saoirse Ronan’s Jo in Little Women is particularly engaging, not to mention splendidly performed – Eloise’s condescension makes her difficult to sympathise with at times.
The saving grace of this character is Jessie’s performance. At her best, the actress elevates the character to an awkward, sympathetic girl trying her best to evade a society she is being forced to join.
Additionally, the season is missing one of the most important draws, Simon Basset. Regé-Jean Page’s dashing love interest provided the audience with the romance and sex it desired.
There are plenty of other handsome young men in the second season, but he is missed greatly. The lack of his presence is exacerbated when his wife Daphne occasionally reappears without him.
This season is arguably both better and worse when it comes to costumes, Unfortunately, the busts are still inaccurate; rather than keeping to the previous season’s silhouette of the waistlines cutting into the actresses’ chests, they are lower, and the chest is flattened (the Regency era actually called for a full, high bust).
Additionally, the historical inaccuracies are especially egregious with Lady Featherington. Her costumes intend to give her a 1950s haute couture look, similar to Anna Karenina (2012). However, in an era when the natural waistline was hidden, she has both the empire waistline and a form-fitting bodice with a cinched waist.
Because of this baffling design choice, her costumes look both odd and unpleasant, especially because the characters surrounding her are closer to the real Regency look – even her maid’s outfits are far more accurate.
It’s tempting to complain about the characters’ long hair in a show set in 1814, but it would be useless – while clothing accuracy is difficult to come by, it’s near impossible for hair and makeup.
Despite its shortcomings, season 2 is still worth checking out.
Kate is a wonderful addition to the ever-expanding cast, and although she is by far the best part of the season, there are plenty of aspects to recommend it: the romantic chemistry, performances, and even the orchestral covers of modern pop music are enjoyable.
Give this a watch if you’re looking for something fun, but historical purists beware.