As we find ourselves relying more than ever on the telly to entertain us during lockdown, the period drama Bridgerton is cleaning up in the ratings war.
Netflix announced last week that the series, with its dishy duke, opulent sets and lavish costumes, is officially its most watched programme ever, reaching the number one slot in a staggering 76 countries and being streamed by around 82 million people worldwide since its release on Christmas Day.
But why are so many people turning to the unattainable lavishness and magnificence of a Regency London when we are all living through an unparalleled global pandemic?
“It is all about the escapism,” says Dr Vicky Ball, a Senior Lecturer in TV History at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), “but it is still relatable.
“Bridgerton falls in to the category of being a ‘guilty pleasure’ and telly is often seen of having little cultural worth because it’s thought of as ‘just entertainment’.
“But I would suggest we need to think about the important role that entertainment and indeed escapist fantasies such as Bridgerton play in society.
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“Programmes like Bridgerton take you to a world you do not know to work through contemporary issues.
“It has been praised for re-engaging us with the past in the context of Black Lives Matter (it features standout performances from Regé-Jean Page as the heartthrob Duke of Hastings and Adjoa Andoh as the distinguished Lady Danbury). And nobody in the Regency period was that ripped and styled. It is a period drama that appeals to the modern viewer. It has to be relatable.
“Crucially fictions such as Bridgerton offer up certain utopian solutions to the problems we face in any given cultural period.
“It transports us emotionally and celebrates times of community, and abundance. Entertainment really offers us solutions to things we cannot solve and feel pretty helpless about.
“It has also acted as a sort of social glue during lockdown. Watching Bridgerton and other period dramas is now a bit like talking about the weather. It gives us something in common to talk about on the phone or Zoom and brings a closeness with friends and family that isn’t physically possible at this time.”
Period dramas have been particularly popular during lockdown. Call the Midwife – set in the 1950s and 1960s - won the TV ratings war on Christmas Day with more than eight million viewers and another period production from Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit – about a troubled child chess prodigy set in the 60s – has racked up worldwide streams of more than 60 million.
“Call the Midwife is so soft and lush”, Vicky says. “People are caring for each other and during this time of lockdown and austerity people need to know there are people who care. And everybody knows about the challenges that the NHS faces on a daily basis.
“Call the Midwife’s celebration of the work of the NHS draws attention to what is at stake, when cuts to funding threaten its very existence” Dr Ball says.
“So far from being escapist drivel then, texts such as Bridgerton and Call the Midwife perform an important social function, they allow members of a culture to speak with one another about their lives and the values they hold dear.”
Period dramas from the last 50 years to check out during lockdown
The Forsyte Saga (BBC 1967) - Chronicles the lives of three generations of the upper-middle-class British family, the Forsytes, from the 1870s to 1920
I, Claudius (BBC/London Film Productions 1976) - Emmy and Bafta-winning mini-series following the history of the Roman Empire that included theatre greats Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Sian Phillips and Sir John Hurt.
Tenko (BBC/ABC 1981) - a group of British, Dutch and Australian women are held in a Japanese internment camp during World War Two.
Tipping the Velvet (Sally Head Productions for BBC 1997) - The story of Nan Astley who falls in love with three different women on her journey to stardom and happiness in 1887 Victorian England.
Life on Mars (Kudos/BBC Wales for BBC 2006) - After being involved in a car accident in 2006, DCI Sam Tyler wakes up to find himself in 1973, the era of 'Sweeney' type policing, Mark III Cortinas, and flared trousers
Posted on Wednesday 10th February 2021