Note: I’ve tried to keep this post spoiler-free; however, I do talk about events broadly, so if you prefer no spoilers at all, you probably don’t want to read this.
I’m not a huge romance novel reader. I’ve tried a few romances, and while they were entertaining, I don’t think the genre is really for me. (I’ll spare you a whole description of why; romance fans seem to suffer enough from non-romance readers explaining to them why their preferred genre has no value.) However, I was intrigued by the idea of a romance novel adapted for television, and the previews of Bridgerton‘s lush costuming and dance scenes caught my eye further; I do like a good Regency film. So, as I watched episode after episode, I was delighted to find myself drawn not just into the main story of Daphne’s fake dating turned real dating romance with a handsome duke, but also into the story of the Bridgerton family and all their friends.
To be honest, I think the focal story of Daphne and the duke might be the least interesting part of the series, in spite of the nuance given to the characters: Daphne’s struggle with appearing to be the “perfect” young lady while actually chafing against some of the constraints put on her by society, Simon’s struggle to commit to someone and find love and a family after being rejected by his father for his own imperfections. The actors certainly do well bringing these character traits to the screen, but overall Daphne and Simon still do come across to me a bit too much like the perfect couple (it’s what everyone in society thinks of course, how lovely they are and how enviable their beautiful love story). And while they have their struggles (and a very major fight and breach of trust with each other), it’s still a romance; we all know the happily ever after is coming.
So while the Daphne/Simon romance is fun, I found the show really shone in areas I hadn’t initially expected: in showing the Bridgerton family’s bonds with each other and their friendships with others (especially Eloise Bridgerton and Penelople Featherington). The show opens with chaos, Bridgerton children running about, poking fun at eldest sister Daphne for taking too long to get ready, exasperated that eldest son Anthony is nowhere to be found and is blowing off his responsibilities yet again. But over the course of the show, viewers see how close the Bridgerton children really are, even when they don’t seem to be. Daphne and Anthony fight but also bond over the high expectations placed on them. Benedict and Eloise share secrets. And their mother watches over them all; she has her own flaws, but her love for her family and her fierce protectiveness is charming.
Penelope Featherington is also a delight. While Eloise comes across a bit as the stock “I am opposed to marriage because it will limit me” character, Pen wants to have it all: love and the opportunity to accomplish other things. And she seems to operate on her own moral compass rather than thinking of what society expects of her or even what would benefit the Featherington family as a whole. I think I look forward to seeing in her future seasons most of all.
So, yes, Bridgerton is a romance, and the show sticks in plenty of steamy scenes (which I mostly skipped, so it’s a good thing the Internet informed me of the controversy surrounding one of those scenes with Daphne and Simon because it actually included a major plot point and jumping off place for character development). But the show really develops the characters and puts a larger emphasis on family and friendship than I had initially anticipated, which I really enjoyed.