Bridgerton: regency thrills are back

The global phenomenon of Bridgerton returns this month. The first instalment of the West Country-filmed production became the most-watched series on Netflix, with over 82 million households bingeing all eight episodes. Writer Chris Van Dusen describes the latest release as “romantic, fraught, charged and transporting” – can records be broken? asks Melissa Blease.

Dust off your ballgowns, powder your wigs, double-lace your corsets and prepare to swoon: Bridgerton – the super-steamy, super-sumptuous Regency-era high society drama series that gave us more melodrama and gossip than any other period-setting TV series before or since – is back for a second season this month.

Based on American author Julia Quinn’s multi-million selling novels, the first series of Bridgerton became the most-watched on Netflix at the time of its premiere, and remains the second most-watched on the platform with a viewership of over 82 million households. Can the second series break new records?

Picking up where we left Lord Anthony, Lady Danbury, the Featheringtons and all the other related (or are they…?) lords, ladies and licentious tittle-tattlers hanging, and introducing several intriguing brand new characters to the labyrinthine, behind-the-scenes machinations that keep those high society wheels rolling, the odds are that the second series of Bridgerton could be brighter, bolder and even more addictive to watch than the original one was… As an extra-added bonus for those of us who live in the West Country, you’ll spot many familiar locations (including the Holburne Museum in Bath and many more of the city’s highways, byways and historic squares) all given a Bridgerton makeover to offer a living, breathing glimpse of our heritage and surroundings in a way that we’ve never seen them before.

Without giving too much away, the second series follows English nobleman Lord Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) Bridgerton’s search for a suitable wife. Things aren’t going too well for Lord A until Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley, Sex Education and Broadchurch) and her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran) arrive from India. But when Anthony begins to court Edwina, Kate discovers the true nature of his intentions (which we have no intention of revealing here) and does everything in her power to stop the union. But in doing so, Kate and Anthony’s verbal sparring matches take a very interesting turn. Meanwhile, on the other side of Grosvenor Square, the Featheringtons must welcome the newest heir to their estate – and we all know that that won’t be a task that comes without all manner of challenges.

Alliances are forged, vows are made and swiftly broken; secrets are revealed and swiftly covered up again; frocks and breeches are flung off faster than they’re laced up; tongues are wagging in all the places that tongue-wagging really shouldn’t happen… but rest assured, narration courtesy of the scandal-hungry, infamous gossip columnist ‘Lady Whistledown’ will once again keep us all up to date at the back.

“I love the fact that you can enjoy Bridgerton on many different levels,” says Adjoa Andoh, who we all know and love as the series’ indomitable dowager Lady Danbury. “If you like a good costume drama, or love a historical romp, or are thrilled by a romantic will they/won’t they saga, it’s for you. But if you want to look for elements that are more reflective, you can. There are many different races represented, and gay love affairs, and women who want to do things other than get married; it’s a broad remit that says to everybody, ‘come on in, you’re welcome!’” And this time around, that all-inclusive welcome is even warmer.

“We’ve done a couple of extra special, amazing things that I think fans will be excited about this season,” says Shonda Rhimes, one of Bridgerton’s three Executive Producers. “The glamour of the balls, the beauty, the stunning hair and make up – all the things that everybody has come to expect from the show is all there. But we’ve upped our game a little bit in terms of how we’re telling this story. In the first season, we had to introduce everybody to the Bridgerton world; now, people know what this world is, so our goal is to bring them in even deeper, give them more of a sense of what’s going on, and let them really see how this world works – and that’s exciting.” Indeed it is.

Above: Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma

How has the experience been for Jonathan Bailey (yup, Lord Anthony Bridgerton himself)? “Coming back together for a second season as the Bridgerton ‘family’ has been amazing,” he says. “Right now, there’s a sense of calm, like being in the eye of a storm. It just feels nice and safe with everyone here, so that’s been really lovely. And for me, knowing that this season was going to go straight into Anthony’s story… he’s really honed in on his decision to find a wife! He makes his decision, he knows exactly what he’s going to look for, and he’s thinking about the future of his lineage. But he’s going to make sure that love plays no part, because he’s seen how distressing losing his father was for his mother. And he’s got a new haircut and shaved off his chops!”.

But Jonathan has delved far deeper into his character’s personality to bring much more than an update of that all-important Regency image to the role. “It was clear from the beginning that Anthony was incredibly complicated and had a rich psychological landscape,” he says. “There’s a lot of unpacking for him to do this season, but he’s a victim of a patriarchal system in which men weren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings. But I think Anthony’s ultimately very kind and full of love.” And Anthony’s going to have to make sure that he has enough of that love to go around when sisters Kate and Edwina enter the Bridgerton fray…

“As a South Asian actor, to be offered a role like this has been incredible,” says Simone Ashley, who plays one of the season’s new characters, Kate Sharma. “That’s really down to our incredible writers and showrunner Chris Van Dusen, who was adamant about encouraging a diverse writers’ room. I’m really grateful for that, because it just shows that having a thought, an idea, that ripples out has led to me sitting here today. And I love Kate! She’s incredibly smart, and she’s got her priorities figured out. She’s also wise and has humility; she knows she’s not perfect, and doesn’t always steer the ship perfectly; I really like that about her, too.”

“I think every actor in Bridgerton brings something of themselves to any given character,” says Adjoa Andoh. “I love Lady Danbury’s appetite for life because I salute people who don’t get wearied or downcast but remain hopeful and optimistic, which can be quite a challenge. And I’m playing Lady Danbury as a black woman, so I think about the challenges that a woman and a woman of colour would have had in the Regency period. She understands that world, she has status in that world, and she navigates that world very well. But she knows the bohemian side of the world she lives in as well – the artists, and the drinking clubs, and all that goes along with that. And she’s fun! She likes a good party, and she likes a good frock, and she likes knowing what’s going on, and she can put her shoulder to the wheel if she wants things to happen, or change; she’s an absolute delight to play. I guess, overall, I just want Lady Danbury to celebrate sturdy women – and she most certainly does that!”

The celebrations, on so many levels, are poised to begin! Ballgowns dusted, wigs powdered, corsets laced? We’re more than ready to swoon over Bridgerton, all over again.

Bridgerton Season 2 will be released on Netflix on 25 March.