Bridgerton Premiere Recap: Netflix interval drama units the stage for a scorching shelf romance

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While you’re writing a recap of Netflix’s Bridgerton, it’s quite difficult not to pick up the voice of Julie Andrews in your own head. After all, she is the voice of Lady Whistledown. And while the scandal journalist’s true identity isn’t revealed until the eighth and final episode of season 1, Andrews’ narrative sets the tone in many ways for this high-end version of Gossip Girl.

The classy first episode, “Diamond of the First Water,” opens at the start of the Regency era social season in London around 1813. Two families are introduced immediately. There is the very fetching Bridgerton clan with all its eight beautiful daughters and beautiful sons and their beautiful widowed mother Viscountess Violet Bridgerton (played by Ruth Gemmell). Their eldest daughter, Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), is served for marriage. While their eldest son Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) is shown how he turns on his freak with his soprano singer Siena (Sabrina Bartlett) on a tree. Needless to say, this guy isn’t the type to get married.

Anthony’s bare ass is exposed and there are barely three minutes to the series. It will be shown again later when he and Siena try a second time. Of course, later episodes are much more steamy, but it’s safe to say that the couple’s frolic outdoors serves as an early warning that this is not a family show.

The Featheringtons are the second notable family. There is the patriarch Baron Featherington (Ben Miller) and his discerning Baroness Portia (Rome’s Polly Walker) who are determined to marry their three daughters Philipa (Harriet Cains), Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Penelope (Nicola Coughlan). The corset of poor cleverness is so tightly tied that she faints in front of the queen (Golda Rosheuvel). For the Featherington girls, it only gets worse when their prettier and more mysterious cousin Marina (Ruby Barker) comes up to them and attracts gangs of suitors. Unfortunately for Marina, a previous relationship with her old boyfriend seals her fate as a mother and increases the need to get married quickly to avoid social disgrace.

Daphne, whose stunning white dress, train, and tiara make her look like she’s going to her own wedding, holds much better masses at the royal court, and Queen Charlotte declares her incomparable of the season. This turns out to be both a blessing and a curse after a rather judgmental and hypocritical Anthony chased away all of Daphne’s eligible applicants. In fact, it gets so bad that an older and lascivious Nigel Berbrooke (Jamie Beamish) remains as Daphne’s best and only option.

But not so fast. Anthony’s college friend, Simon Basset (Rege-Jean Page), flirts with Daphne as she tries to escape Berbrooke at Lady Danbury’s (Adjoa Andoh) ball. Here Daphne learns that Simon is the Duke of Hastings, but her title doesn’t impress her. There is an undeniable zing between the two and both Daphne and Simon walk away, wondering about the other. Although Chris Van Dusen created the show, which was adapted from Julia Quinn’s hugely popular Bridgerton book series, Shonda Rhimes is an executive producer. So fans of the prolific producer can expect a lot of romantic chemistry between Daphne and Simon and a lot of racist inclusivity. The subject of race is covered briefly in Episode 2 and more fully in Episode 4, presumably to eliminate naysayers who might prefer the white versions of Simon, Danbury, Marina, and the Queen of the book. Or maybe not. Pish classy.

Back to the series premiere. Thanks to Whistledown’s devastating but separate observations of Daphne and Simon and the writer’s public challenge to have a matchmaker match Simon with one of the waiting ladies, Danbury and Viscountess Violet come up with a plan to set up the teens. The plan also works because it brings Simon and Daphne back together, this time at the Bridgerton dining table, with Simon and Daphne verbally improving each other every step of the way. Oh! Check out this sexy chemistry!

When the two meet for the third time, Simon runs to save Daphne from a handy Nigel. But Daphne is perfectly capable of handling herself and with her satin fists gives Nigel a two-piece suit and a cookie. The first episode ends with Simon devising an evil plot in which he and Daphne pretend to fall in love, so that Whistledown and all the thirsty mothers of the nobility will leave him alone and all the bachelors covet Daphne more. The two co-conspirators walk hand in hand to the dance floor and the fireworks in the background are not the only spark party-goers can see with joy.

What do you think of Bridgerton’s supporting act?

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