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REVIEW: Bridgerton is basically Downton Abbey with lots and lots of sex

By Rory Cashin

December 22, 2020 at 8:00am

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Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan steals the show in Netflix's big Christmas Day release.

You would think that people might have gotten a bit bored of emotionally repressed period dramas, but after both Downton Abbey and The Crown have proven that to be very wrong, it turns out that as long as your emotionally repressed period drama has a hook, then it'll be a winner. Downton Abbey had heart-aching romance, The Crown has scandalous merging of fact and fiction, and Bridgerton has sex. Lots and lots of sex.

Set during a particularly hectic social season, we focus primarily on two families - the Bridgertons and the Featheringtons - and each family's overly-fussy matriarch trying to pair off their eldest daughters with the richest, most noble single man available. It is against this backdrop that Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) strikes a deal with the visiting Duke Simon Bassett (Regé-Jean Page) - since they are both so fed up with the endless advances, they pretend to be courting each other, in the hope everyone else will look for romance elsewhere.

But will this incredibly attractive, smart, funny pair actually manage to stay "just friends", or will real love and lust get in the way? It doesn't take a genius to figure out the direction the plot will be heading in, but the fun here isn't in the destination, but the journey, and the folks they meet along the way.

They include Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan, harbouring a heartbreaking crush on an unrequited love; Claudie Jessie as the independent woman who completely rallies against the whole idea of matchmaking; Adjoa Andoh as Duke Bassett's aunt and clearly channeling the energy of Maggie Smith; Golda Rosheuvel as the always impatient, always so-very-bored Queen... and then there's Lady Whistledown. Voiced by Julie Andrews but never actually seen, she publishes a gossipy newsletter that always seems to have the inside scoop on the latest scandals, and her reports are enough to make or break a family's social standing. Kind of like a pre-internet Gossip Girl.

The parallels of Whistledown's prints and modern-day tabloid exploitation are there to be unearthed, with people often seen as less-than unless they're wearing the most expensive dress and linking arms with most desirable man. That thread of modernity can be found elsewhere, right down to the classical, orchestral performances of Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and Taylor Swift songs (not unlike Westworld).

But it all comes back to sex and desire. Earlier episodes find characters losing their breath at hand-holding, while some of the later episodes are almost entirely devoted to some explicit sex scenes. The chaste nature of the Regency era setting is promptly dropped, so any families planning on gathering around this over Christmas break might want to reconsider that plan of action.

All in all, producer Shonda Rhimes - who definitely knows how to make scandalous work, after her previous hit shows Grey's Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and... eh... Scandal - has worked her magic again here, and while there isn't really an ounce of originality to be found, it still makes for an addictive, trashy, sexy binge-watch.

All eight episodes of Bridgerton will be added to Netflix on Christmas Day.

READ NEXT: The 10 most overlooked movies of 2020

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