Bridgerton’s casting isn’t revisionist history – it’s the onscreen representation we need

Bridgerton: Anthony opens up about 'difficulty' of love

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Bridgerton has become the biggest show on Netflix since its debut on Christmas Day last year. The series eschews the more buttoned-up period drama tropes viewers may be used for a fantastical, glamorous – not to mention steamier – take on the Regency Era which would leave Jane Austen blushing beneath her bonnet.

Made by Shondaland, the production company set up by American powerhouse producer Shonda Rhimes – the woman behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, among many others – Bridgerton has chosen a fresh approach by featuring a diverse cast with actors of colour taking centre stage.

It’s telling how it took a group of Americans to bring diversity to a quintessentially English period drama, highlighting British television still has a long way to go in terms of onscreen representation.

Simone Ashley, an actress of South Asian heritage, is no stranger to many thanks to her role as popular girl Olivia at Moordale High in Netflix’s comedy-drama Sex Education and she is a welcome addition to the Bridgerton cast.

Season two will be taking its cue from Bridgerton author Julia Quinn’s second novel in the series The Viscount Who Loved Me. 

If Kate – Sheffield in the novel and Sharma in the show – is anything to go by, rake extraordinaire and former professed bachelor for life Anthony Bridgerton (played by Jonathan Bailey) will have met his match.

The casting is significant as it’s incredibly rare to have a black or brown actress taking on the lead protagonist in a show like Bridgerton.

Generally, unless it’s a show about the British Empire or slavery, viewers never really see women of colour in these kinds of roles.

Perhaps Amma Asante’s 2013’s film Belle featuring British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the eponymous mixed-race heroine is one of the few exceptions. 

Again, while Belle was groundbreaking by putting a woman of colour at the centre of the story, it was through the prism of the abolitionist movement in England. But there’s the sense Belle walked so Bridgerton could fly.

Bridgerton is truly a pioneer in this respect with the characters not solely defined by the colour of their skin or their cultural heritage, allowing the audience to see them in a new and different context – rather than perpetuating stereotypes of exoticism and sexual fetishization or submission which seem to come too often with depictions of South Asian women.

If the writers stay true to the source material, Kate will be a breath of fresh air. She is not the typical period drama heroine, assertive rather than demure, and clumsy rather than dainty compared to her young and eligible “diamond of the first water” sister Edwina.

Kate steps on people’s feet when attempting to waltz at balls, she remains wholly forthright in her opinion, and never holds back when it comes to protecting her younger sibling from cads and bounders alike. Kate is fallible and much more relatable with her own demons and vulnerabilities.

Those who decry revisionist history need to take a good hard look at Bridgerton.

The series makes no pretence of trying to be a piece of visual candy floss with its shiny, sparkly and glitzy costumes and lavish locations.

Surely, featuring string quartet versions of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish tracks should be a dead giveaway of Bridgerton’s tongue-in-cheek sensibilities?

The Bridgerton family wasn’t real. This story is a flight of fancy, offering up confection for eyes.

Bridgerton is a bodice ripper with high production values which never takes itself too seriously and demands the same from its legion of viewers. This is not a documentary or historical piece.

The viewing figures are also something to behold as well with 82 million households tuning in to watch Bridgerton in the first 28 days since its release.

The drama has resonated with audiences around the world, becoming the biggest show ever for Netflix.

Bridgerton is pure escapist fantasy. With filming scheduled to start on season two in the spring, this author is certainly ready to fall down the rabbit hole again and return to Shondaland.

Bridgerton season 1 is streaming on Netflix now

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