Netflix’s big Christmas release has nothing to do with sequins, gifts or Santa Claus, and it has everything to do with romance, scandals and matchmaking.
Bridgerton is the first thing to come out of Shonda Rhimes ’amazing deal with about $ 100 million streaming service, and expectations for the eight-part drama are accordingly high.
Shonda Rhimes, creator of the world’s most successful TV show – Grey’s Anatomy – has based this new drama on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels.
But while the program is set in Regency London, the genre has been turned upside down by a queen of mixed heritage and a feminine look throughout the series.
Bridgerton creator and executive producer Chris Van Dusen – who has worked closely with Rhimes on shows including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal for years – says that by basing the new series in history, with an artistic license at the same time, they have created something he believes will appeal to modern audiences.
He said of the Sky News Backstage podcast: “I took one possible fact and that is the idea that Queen Charlotte was the first English queen of the mixed race, and that is something that many historians firmly believe exists and that it is really resonated with me.
“The idea really struck me because it made me wonder what it could really look like? What could have happened? What could it have done? Could it have raised other people of color in society and given them titles of both country and duchy?”
“And that’s really the idea that our Simon Bassett (Duke of Hastings from the series) came from. It was all in a little bit of history and a little bit of fantasy and where they met was what fascinated me.”
Rhimesa and her production company Shondaland are revered by many in the industry for allowing a diverse audience to see themselves on screen thanks to their choice of roles.
Van Dusen says that while racing is a very important part of their process, he doesn’t like the term “color blind casting”.
“I think the word‘ color blind ’means that color and race are not taken into account, and I don’t think that’s true for Bridgerton.
“I think color and race are part of the show and part of the talk of the show, just like things like class, gender and sexuality … At the end of the day I wanted Bridgerton to reflect the world we live in today, and even though we were heading into the 19th century , I still wanted the modern audience to treat him and be seen on screen no matter who you are.
“Because we’ve worked at Shondaland for so long, since Grey’s Anatomy, that’s what we do there, we’ve dealt with the best actors in roles in ways that represent the world today.”
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Today’s world is also presented in Bridgerton with the way the show looks at women and their relationships with men.
It happens during the debut season, where young ladies are expected to find fiancés, and the unions will eventually be decided by the men in their lives.
But the show does not allow the characters to escape the usual portrayal of men at the time.
Jonathan Bailey, who plays Anthony Bridgerton in the play, told Backstage: “Mr Darcy is so attractive, so distant and like the impossibly emotionally missing.
“There’s an idea of romanticizing male characters who aren’t present and who aren’t available, and women have to teach them how to feel, and that’s something I think we kept seeing.
Rege-Jean Page who plays the Duke of Hastings explains: “I think this is a universal theme, you are somehow bound by these false icons of masculinity, that you have to be strong all the time, you have to be dominant.
“You have to have a lot of pride and hold revenge against your dead father, when we actually discover that strength is born out of vulnerability, out of discovering empathy, out of learning how to better love other people.
“And I think it’s carried out in almost every time period I’ve ever worked, so it’s nice to be able to explore it in what is otherwise often a very traditional genre.”
Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan, who plays the often frustrated young debutante Penelope Featherington, told Backstage that Shondaland has raised the bar for the television casting.
“What they were doing in terms of advocating roles for women – complicated women – on television, for LGBTQ characters, for diversity on television, broke those boundaries, but then everyone else looked up to them and said, maybe we could do that or we should do it, which everyone should be.
“And I think Bridgerton is such a great addition to this family. I feel like it seems like something very new, but it also really belongs in that world, I think people will feel it when they watch it.”
Bridgerton is coming out on Netflix on Christmas, listen to our review of the show in this week’s episode of the Backstage podcast.