Chelsea Daniel | April 6, 2022
Bridgerton’s second season is a play on the period piece tropes adored by Austen fans. Season one of Bridgerton aired in 2020 as an adaptation of Julia Quinn’s beloved novels set in the Regency Era. The first season explored Daphne Bridgerton’s search for a husband within London society, and the developing relationship between her and the Duke. Each movement and scandal is documented by a columnist-like character, Lady Whistledown, whose plot line continues this season. This newest season focuses on the second Bridgerton sibling, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), as he searches for a wife. When the Sharma family arrives in England from India, Anthony wishes to marry their youngest daughter, Edwina. However, to do so, he first has to win over Edwina’s fierce protector: her older sister Kate (Simone Ashley). As predicted, scandal ensues and sexual tension brews between Kate and Anthony. This season aims to be more comfortable in its silliness, creating an illusion where in Bridgerton’s Regency England, the Sharma sisters can happily exist in English society. If the show favoured realism, then this wouldn’t have been possible as the regency era was at the same time of India’s brutal colonisation by the English government.
This season of Bridgerton is unfaithful to Quinn’s novel The Viscount Who Loved Me, allowing the show to instead play on beloved tropes of Austen’s on-screen adaptations, rather than silly unbelievable plotlines where a bee sting can affect a lady’s honour. Delightfully, there is friction between the two love interests which occurs after Kate overhears Anthony discussing his shallow wishes for a wife, with love not being a priority. From there, Kate decides to do everything in her power to prevent her sister Edwina from marrying Anthony—commencing their enemies to lovers journey. Other tropes employed include the lingering handholding by the love interests—seen in the most recent Emma and Pride and Prejudice films—competitive sport playing, the horse scenes from Sense and Sensibility, and of course, the water-soaked white shirt of Jonathan Bailey’s character, Anthony, after falling in a river, a clear nod to the BBC Pride and Prejudice scene where Colin Firth also emerges from a lake in a soaked shirt.
Unlike Bridgerton’s first season, the audience is able to soak in the characters and their chemistry—a slow-burn situation. We are able to explore the development of the characters’ love stories in greater detail. We could watch as the couple fight their attraction to each other for the sake of their ‘duties’ that come from being the leaders of their family. Even Kate Sharma on her own is a far more interesting protagonist than Daphne Bridgerton was. The actress plays her delightfully, fully understanding what Kate’s purpose in the show is—to be a likeable love interest. Whereas Daphne’s whole character was just about her being so perfect, as she was the ‘diamond’ of the season. If you don’t think about it too hard, season two is a delightful, fun, campy romance that ticks all the boxes of period piece romances. It is an easy escape to give your brain a break from everything that’s been dominating the news headlines in the past few days, months, even years. However, I can’t help but think about it in more detail than was likely intended.
The release of Bridgerton’s first season resulted in heavy criticisms of the show’s depiction of race. Whilst the show claims to exist in a fantasy world where the love between Queen Charlotte and King George was able to conquer racism in the early 1800s, many questioned why there is a diverse array of characters. This explanation led to critics expressing anger at the colourism in the representation of the Black characters, as the ‘colour-blind, but not really colour-blind’ casting and plotlines ultimately led to glaring racial power imbalances. For example, it meant Anthony wanted to kill the Black character Simon, for ‘ruining’ and falling in love with his white sister, Daphne. This was certainly a choice.
In what appears to be a correction of these mistakes, the show cast Simone Ashley as the love interest with the introduction of the Sharma family, a change from the book where the family name is Sheffield. Not only is this the first Asian lead in the series but the Sharma family’s costumes include details such as a pre-wedding tradition, pashminas and beadworking; there are references to the languages Edwina speaks (Marathi and Hindustani) and even Kate’s first words on the show are spoken in Hindi. These details have been excitedly noted by fans. As a viewer, I enjoyed these details and perspectives. A new take on a Regency-era piece is fun and brings new life into an old and too white genre. However, considering this is set in the Regency era, all of this would theoretically exist during the brutal colonisation of India done by the British Monarch. In what is shockingly on brand, this reality is absent in the show.
This fact could be dismissed if Bridgerton decided to continue in the fantasy world it tried to create in season 1 where the love between Queen Charlotte and King George ended racism. If Bridgerton stayed in this fantasy lane, we could enjoy these fun Austen tropes, living vicariously through an enemies to lovers plotline. Except Bridgerton is intent on trying to still be… historically feminist? Eloise (one of the Bridgerton siblings whose main trait is despising women’s role in society), starts her journey this season by expressing her admiration for Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She starts reading ‘radical’ literature and we see her attending forums, a common occurrence in the 17-1900s as the Suffragette movement started building momentum. It is a feeble attempt to brand the show as feminist by explicity telling us it’s feminist, without really doing anything actually THAT feminist. But more importantly, Eloise’s journey instantly centres Bridgerton in a time and place, connecting it to a real historical event and movement. Our disbelief is no longer suspended as the show doesn’t truly exist in a make-believe world. If the fight for women’s suffrage is a thing, wouldn’t the British East India Company also be?
That is the hubris of Bridgerton—the show tells us it’s a silly campy romance for us to enjoy as an act of escapism, whilst simultaneously begging us to take it seriously. This causes any viewer with a knowledge of history to think critically, shattering the illusion it tries to create. Bridgerton is at its best when it admits what it is—a silly little romance! The most enjoyable parts were the progress on the romantic elements; the chasing horses and hushed night library scenes. The show should have continued to just play with period piece fanfiction tropes, instead of handpicking which historical elements are convenient for the writers. It is simply a Jane Austen fan fiction, and that is all it has to be.