Netflix released their lush and swoon-worthy adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books, a series of Regency-era romance novels that each follow one of eight siblings in the titular Bridgerton family. The first season, which came out on Christmas Day, follows the plot of the first book, The Duke and I, and is largely focused on the romance of Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings.
Unlike the book, however, Bridgerton tells a wider story. Where romance novels of this sort generally focus on the central couple, with their friends and family only occupying a supportive peripheral role, Bridgerton expands the roles of Daphne’s elder brothers Anthony, Benedict, and Colin, as well as that of her younger sister Eloise. Structurally, from a television standpoint, this makes sense. The supporting cast needs to do more than fill the background and populate the lives of the central couple. Especially if the series is vying for more than a single season, then they require that setup.
But the reason this was such a wonderful choice for me personally, and why it cemented Bridgerton as one of my favorites, was because of how much I love the other characters. Daphne and Simon’s story is the perfect one with which to kick off the series and establish the world they live in, because outside of some inner turmoil, angst, and an astounding combination of naivete and communication issues, not a whole lot happens. Certainly not enough to sustain eight episodes of television.
Anthony’s story was always the most linked to Daphne’s, since as her eldest brother and the head of the family, he does have a say in who she marries. But Bridgerton does a wonderful job of making Anthony both understandably burdened and an unlikeable man all at once. This takes him from the coolly practical and cocky man he is in the books to someone whose redemption I cannot wait to watch.
The one thing I am most grateful to the first season of Bridgerton for, however, is the early introduction of Polin—or Penelope and Colin—my favourite romance in all eight books. Until their novel, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, Penelope was a punchline. The unfortunately attired youngest sister of the Featherington family, whose mother saw her as little more than an inconvenience, and who everyone looked at sideways, assuring themselves that things might be bad, but at least they didn’t have it as bad as poor Penelope.
Though the Bridgerton family are friendly enough to the Featheringtons, it always felt like a shocking lack of empathy on their part to look down on Penelope as they did, especially when the family has four daughters of their own to see married off. As each social season passed and Penelope remained the wallflower, my heart broke just a little more for the awkward girl who never had a chance in such a shallow society.
Then came Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, which suddenly threw Penelope’s friendship with Eloise and her subsequent proximity to the Bridgerton family directly into the spotlight. As much as I adored her snarky friendship-turned-romance with Colin, by the end I was a little frustrated that the whole thing was confined to just that one book.
This is the brilliance of Bridgerton. Penelope and Colin’s relationship is the only one built on the foundation of a pre-existing friendship, but in the books they only really start spending time together in their own story. This isn’t a knock on the books, as I know that’s the format of the genre. But the writers understand that for an audience not already predisposed to understand how romance novels work, they need more time with two supposed friends in order to believe they’ll eventually fall in love.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that 2021 has been a harder year than most for a lot of people. At the best of times, romance is a top-selling genre, but this year it took a hard turn into public conversations of media. Several romance novels went viral on Tik Tok, and many hit bestseller lists. It was no longer a source of shame to admit that you enjoyed the genre for what it was. I firmly believe that it is Bridgerton that brought it into the mainstream. For me personally, it’s all I can do not to give it yet another rewatch, even at this busy time of year. I don’t use Spotify personally, but if I did, I’m confident that the Vitamin String Quartet covers of modern pop songs performed for the show would have appeared in my Spotify Wrapped.
I first became aware of the Bridgerton books in my first year of graduate school. I had overburdened myself with coursework, since my program had no cap on the number of classes I could take. Faced with the prospect of nine exams looming on the horizon, I was shutting down. That is, until my roommate introduced me to this series of romance novels she found at the library. We very quickly blew through all eight books, and most of Julia Quinn’s other books as well.
No wonder then, that I see Bridgerton as something I turn to in times of stress. Romance is escapism for me, and if the success of the series is any indication, many felt the same way this year. Several months into 2021, it remained the highest-viewed series on Netflix, being toppled only recently by Squid Game. I’m sure there’s something to be said for a sweet, steamy romance series being taken out of the top spot by a gruesome reflection on the dangers of capitalism as a reflection on our current state.
But instead, I choose to focus on the positive. With at least two more seasons of Bridgerton on the horizon—not to mention a prequel limited series—hope springs eternal for romance fans like myself that this is not the only time we will see our favourite novels brought to the screen and shared far and wide. The Love Hypothesis adaptation, anyone?
Arezou Amin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of Star Wars, romance, fantasy, and all things pop culture. She is the host of Space Waffles, a Star Wars-focused podcast on the Geeky Waffle network, where she also co-hosts the flagship show and writes reviews and recaps for the site.