Pride and Prejudice, Poldark, Downtown Abbey and now Netflix’s smash-hit series, Bridgerton: period dramas have always been popular – that’s why they keep making them – but streaming services like Netflix might just be taking that popularity to a new level. Combine the traditional BBC-style tale of repressed passions and lavish costumes with the very modern storytelling nous of uber-producer Shonda Rhimes and you’ve got something that’s at once familiar and unlike anything period drama fans have seen before. Orlaith Condon, Entertainment Reporter and host of The Weekly Watch Podcast and journalist Edel Coffey – both period drama fans – joined Claire Byrne to talk about our seemingly-insatiable appetite for big frocks, country houses and ballroom intrigue. And Edel summed up her feelings for Bridgerton:
“It has something for everyone. Everyone’s talking about the sex, there’s gossip, there’s beautiful regency-era houses, it was all shot in Bath and York and then of course there’s the beautiful costumes and the beautiful rooms that we love about period drama. I mean, it’s very, very schlocky, but it’s very, very enjoyable.”
Orlaith seemed a little less taken with Netflix’s approach to period drama than Edel did, telling Claire that fans of old-school dramas like Pride and Prejudice might find Bridgerton too “sickly sweet”:
“I definitely felt a little bit disappointed by it, but definitely the modern aspects of it sit very well on Netflix, you know, like you said, even just the brighter-coloured dresses, and the vividness of the action on screen.”
The dialogue, Orlaith feels, is watered-down compared to the heightened language of the likes of Pride and Prejudice. But the show has undeniably struck a chord with audiences: it came out – sorry, I mean it dropped – four weeks ago now and it’s still the number one trending show in Ireland on Netflix. Why are we drawn to period dramas? Claire wants to know. Is it the nostalgia, the romance, the escapism? Orlaith reckons it’s all of that:
“The fact of period drama is that it’s meant to be set in this time gone by, you know, it’s meant to have a root in some kind of reality and I guess that’s where it kind of differs from maybe sci-fi shows that are set in a different kind of place than we would ever have experienced.”
One of the interesting things Claire raises about period dramas is the position of women: in the times they’re set in, women are repressed, they don’t have a vote and generally the best they can hope for is to marry someone who’s not awful. Edel reckons the appeal lies in the fact that the heroines of period dramas tend to be idyllic representations of feminist women:
“They’re independent, they want to marry for love, they will not marry for anything less and so, if they’re going to be restricted by those roles, they’re still going to have these values that we adore today, or that we aspire to today.”
Bridgerton has also attracted praise for its Hamiliton-like “colour-blind casting” and for Edel, it’s a breath of fresh air:
“I think this is the first period drama I’ve seen where the racial diversity is so representative... I was reading one of the writers on the programme said she just wanted to normalise it.”
You can hear Edel and Orlaith’s full conversation with Claire by going here.
Bridgerton is currently streaming on Netflix.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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