British period dramas tend to be successful so long as they’re done right.
You already know that. You wouldn’t be reading our website if you didn’t! While there will always be an audience for shows about “the good old days” in the country they’re set in, the best British period dramas find audiences all over the world. Never has that been more true than it is with “Bridgerton,” which has been the surprise hit of 2021 thus far. At the time of writing, more than 82 million people have seen at least one episode of the Netflix show.
That will probably reach 100 million by the end of February. It’s obvious it’s been a spectacular hit, which has led to a second season being commissioned, but why has it resonated with so many people? What made this show such a success in a field where so many others have failed?
There might be something to be said for the idea that it came along at the right time. It’s been a few years since “Downton Abbey” came to an end, and people have had a period drama-shaped hole in their lives ever since it did. We sometimes forget just how big a deal “Downton Abbey” was. Not only did it lead to a movie – which was never part of the original plan – but it also led to a mobile game and an official online slots game made by the Skywind Group.
Online slots have been popular with the public for a long time now, but the ones that tend to attract the most attention are complex, sophisticated affairs like the mining-themed “Bonanza.” Something as niche as a period drama ought not to get a look in, but its popularity at online slots websites says otherwise. People have demonstrated that they’re prepared to go “all in” on a period drama so long as it’s presented to them in the right fashion, and “Bridgerton” clearly fit the bill.
We shouldn’t put this all down to a matter of timing, though, and nor should we surmise that everyone who watched “Downton Abbey” would also be interested in “Bridgerton.” The subject matter is nominally similar, but the content is very different. “Downton Abbey” was a gentle, funny show that connected with a mainstream family audience (with the exception of a couple of controversial storylines). Bridgerton is full of what we’ll euphemistically refer to as “adult content.” It’s so full of sex scenes, in fact, that several British tabloids labeled the show “controversial and divisive.”
While it might have been controversial, it’s hard to support the idea that’s been seen as “divisive.” Divisive shows don’t command the kind of audience that “Bridgerton” has reached. The opposite might even be true. The racy storylines, sexy content, and generally risque atmosphere might have drawn in people who would never normally dream of watching a period drama.
Throughout the show, there’s a pervasive feeling that the period setting is little more than window dressing. If you have a keen ear for modern music, you’ll hear it played again and again in the background of crucial scenes. One of the first scenes that Daphne and her Duke share as a newly-married couple is set to an orchestral version of “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift.
Songs by Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande also appear in the score, with the tracks re-arranged to make them sound like they’re appropriate for the era. Even the costumes aren’t in keeping with the period they allegedly come from. While the style of the dresses might be accurate, the bright colors and eye-catching patterns certainly aren’t. A purist might argue that “Bridgerton” isn’t really a period drama at all. A cynic might argue that this is exactly why it’s the most successful example of its genre in living memory.
While “Bridgerton” isn’t funny in the same way that “Downton Abbey” was funny, we also shouldn’t overlook its brand of humor while we’re trying to work out its appeal. The tone of the comedy in Bridgerton might be darker than you’d expect from a period drama, but it runs all the way through the show and often provides light after some of the plot’s darker moments. It’s also well applied. The people who get ridiculed are generally those who deserve to be ridiculed. The jokes aren’t exploitative, and the dialogue is witty. Going a step further than that, the way the show doles out ‘justice’ is also satisfying.
Bad people get their comeuppance. Good people, for the main part, get what they deserve by the end. It’s a feel-good show that’s proven to be the perfect antidote for the difficult times we’re living through. If the present is unbearable, why not escape into the past? That’s the route that millions of people have taken, and it might not have been the case had the show been screened during any other time.
Another factor that people point to while trying to work out the appeal of “Bridgerton” is the diverse cast. The show makes no bones about featuring people of color in places where they historically wouldn’t have been, including the Queen of England. This is, of course, inaccurate from a purely historical point of view, but it helps to redress the balance after years of “whitewashed” period dramas where people of color aren’t seen at all.
It’s yet another factor that sets “Bridgerton” apart from the period dramas that have come before it and may have played a key role in attracting the younger demographic. Period dramas have always been popular with viewers above a certain age. “Bridgerton” was just as popular with people under 30 as it was with people above that age, and the modern approach to storytelling and casting might be part of that.
Maybe the real reason is also the obvious one – “Bridgerton” has been a hit because it’s an excellent, well-written television show performed to a high standard by a great cast. That’s why we all enjoyed it so much, and that’s why we can’t wait to see the second season when it eventually appears. We don’t know when that might be, as it might be quite a while before filming can begin again, but we’ll be here for it whenever it happens – and so, we’re sure, will you.