Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley’s chemistry sets the screen alight in the second season of record-breaking Regency romance series
Starring Adjoa Andoh, Lorraine Ashbourne, Jonathan Bailey, Harriet Cains, Bessie Carter, Nicola Coughlan, Phoebe Dynevor, Ruth Gemmell, Florence Hunt, Claudia Jessie, Luke Newton, Golda Rosheuvel, Luke Thompson, Will Tilston, Polly Walker, Julie Andrews, Simone Ashley, Charithra Chandran, Shelley Conn, Rupert Young, Martins Imhangbe, and Calam Lynch
That terrifying moment where you think there’s an extra step at the top of the staircase and, as your foot plummets precious inches through unexpected air, your heart jolts into your throat as if the entire universe has crumbled around you. That dream you have, even well into your twenties, of sitting in an exam room and feeling wholly unprepared, or being thrust onto stage to perform a role you cannot remember. Those head-scratching moments where you stare around at your surroundings, your arm hair unnervingly stood on end with the all-consuming sensation that this has definitely happened before. Throughout humanity, some experiences are just universal. It seems that being drawn towards, and being fascinated by romance, is one of them.
After all, romantic fiction is the most profitable book genre for fiction and Bridgerton‘s first season broke all sorts of Netflix records with its take on the steamy Regency period. Romances short shrift is, no doubt about it, due to sexism around the subject, predominantly written and consumed as it is by women and men, of course, prefer more earthly bonds like yet another Lee Child novel because, let’s face it, a tortured male hero who serially objectifies and manipulates women is the peak of nuance.
It is perhaps curious that such bold romantic sweeps should be made out of what was undoubtedly a thoroughly unromantic time period. Women were unable to travel unescorted, with very few rights. Marriages were infrequently made out of love and increasingly out of financial necessity and all manner of scandal and impropriety could result in social ostracisation – a practical death sentence. Perhaps it is this backdrop – the manners, the courtesy, the constraints – which make finding love during this time period so appealing and so infinitely watchable. A reassuring notion that, despite the immense distance that exists between the audience and the characters, despite the huge differences in social etiquette, that are our hearts and bodies move to the same rhythm as they always have.
Regardless of why humans are so obsessed with the endeavours of a highly select group of rich people for a time period that lasted all of a decade, Bridgerton’s second outing is just as captivating as the first, though fans expecting the same level of salacious nudity may find themselves disappointed. After a series of staring at Regé-Jean Page’s smouldering looks, as the Duke of Hastings desperately tried to resist the temptations of doe-eyed eldest Bridgerton daughter (Phoebe Dynevor), Bridgerton graduates to focus upon the Viscount himself, eldest child Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) as he finally elects to settle down in an adaptation of Julia Quinn’s decond novel The Viscount Who Loved Me.
Bridgerton continues to demonstrate its commitment to present a more diverse Regency-era drama by retooling the Sheffield family from the book into the Sharmas. Newly arrived from India, matriarch Mary (Shelley Conn) and elder sister, and resigned spinster (at the decrepit age of six-and-twenty) Kate (Simone Ashley) are seeking a match for Edwina (Charithra Chandran) with the help of a sponsorship from Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) for the social season. Anthony, in his turn, fresh off his recent failed dalliance with opera singer Siena, is dedicated to performing his role of Viscount as effectively as his late father would have done, which inevitably means getting married and the messy business of rearing children to secure the line’s survival.
When Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) names Edwina the new diamond of the season, it seems fated that Edwina and Anthony would be a perfect match. Though Edwina is perfectly taken, and Anthony more than content to pursue her, Kate is staunchly against the match from the beginning, though soon finds her feelings complicated by the mutual, fiery attraction that threatens to overwhelm the forbidden pair.
Anthony further finds himself complicated by these unwelcome stirrings as, though no stranger to carnal desire, he is scarred from witnessing his father’s death and the grief suffered by his mother in the aftermath, determining him to resign himself to a life without the trappings of romantic love, unwilling to inflict this pain on another being. Determined to marry Edwina, as she is the best, most appropriate choice for him, even his concerned mother (Ruth Gemmell) and newly-wise-because-she-has-an-(off-screen)-husband-and-child-now sister Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) are unable to persuade him to follow his heart.
This is far from the only drama to befall the ton, however, with forward-thinking, thoroughly intellectual Eloise (Claudia Jessie) making her own social debut, artistically driven Benedict (Luke Thompson) beginning to study the art of painting and Colin (Luke Newton) still reeling from the aftermath of his romance with Lady Marina that has stayed with him despite his lengthy travels. Elsewhere, Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) struggles to keep her identity as Lady Whistledown hidden, especially when best friend Eloise is accused by the Queen of being the acid-tongued wordsmith and the Featherington family as a whole find themselves caught off guard by the arrival of the new Featherington heir, Jack (Rupert Young) and Portia (Polly Walker) dedicates herself to assuring the financial stability of her daughters.
For fans concerned that the absence of breakout star Regé-Jean Page means a drop in quality from the show, there is more than enough combustible chemistry between lead couple Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley. Following the classic enemy-to-lovers trope, palpable sexual tension pervades scenes so obviously it’s practically an additional character. The two continually butt heads, matching each other in intellect and in spirit, with impassioned arguments threatening to alter the nature of their relationship at any moment until the two are clutching onto the merest threads of self-control. In contrast to the previous season uniting Daphne and Simon under somewhat complicated circumstances around halfway through, Kate and Anthony grapple with their feelings at an agonisingly close distance, sparks flying between them with such flammable regularity that it’s a wonder that the ton didn’t go down in flames.
Both Bailey and Ashley craft well-rounded, likeable characters. The palpable chemistry makes the relationship easy to root for, though the show delights in teasing viewers by consistently threatening to push the pair over the line and then yanking them apart once more, leaving the audience to release the breath they didn’t realise they were holding. Bailey highlights the Viscount’s passionate angst, whilst Ashley is headstrong and forthright, standing up to the Viscount and challenging him in ways that can only make her his true equal.
A brilliant slow-burn romance, Bridgerton continues to be as successful as ever, though could make some strides in terms of queer representation. Though, of course, not every television series is a box-ticking exercise, in a universe in which Regency-era England is reimagined to be more diverse, it seems that a queer love story is hardly outside of the realms of possibility. What’s more, considering the blatant use of queer baiting within the Season 1 trailer, which ultimately amounted to very little, it would be apropos of Bridgerton executives to include more queer representation moving forwards, especially considering Benedict’s role within the artistic community.
With a third and fourth season already given the green light by Netflix, it seems that there is plenty more meaningful glances to be exchanged across packed ball rooms to come. Should the show continue to follow the structure set out by Julia Quinn’s novels, the next season should focus around the second son of the Bridgerton family, Benedict. However, with 8 books in the lineup and public consciousness as ever-changing as the wind, it may behoove executives to interpolate elements from more than one novel so as to not run the risk of overstaying their welcome.
Bridgerton is available to stream now on Netflix.