This heavily promoted hit Netflix series is one of the silliest things I have seen in a long time.
I can just imagine how the pitch for this idea went. The creators realized that there seems to be an inexhaustible appetite among American audiences for shows about the bygone days of the English aristocracy with the action taking place in stately mansions, as can be seen from the immense popularity of earlier shows like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. This series cranks that all up to 11. The entire series take place in the fanciest of castles and homes and beautiful parks and other outdoor settings with everyone, and I mean everyone, including the servants, dressed in the finest clothes. There are no big name stars in the show and I figured this must be because they spent most of the budget on costumes. The entire time of people is spent gossiping about each other and promenading in gardens or attending the balls that seem to occur every night. Apparently these events require women to wear a new outfit each time.
Poor people are never seen. The servants are all shown as faithful retainers who are happy with their lot. In the entire eight one-hour episodes, there were a few brief scenes set in a picturesque English village with quaint villagers milling about and there were about two minutes spent in a London working class area that one young woman was taken to to show what would happen to her if she did not make a ‘good’ marriage. There was no attempt to deal with social issues like class distinctions or poverty or wars, though there were a few feeble attempts at introducing feminist sentiments and there was a sympathetic gay character to explain how dangerous life was for them in those times to be open about their sexuality. It seemed rather a forced attempt to give the show some semblance of social consciousness and not what it really was, an entire exercise in escapist fantasy.
As for the story, it was preposterous. Although the leading couple of Daphne and Simon were very attractive to look at, their storyline was ridiculous when it was not boring. More interesting were some of the subsidiary characters such as Daphne’s sister Eloise, Eloise’s friend Penelope, and Simon’s aunt Lady Danbury. There were also several brutal scenes of bare-knuckle prize-fighting, the function of which I could not quite figure out. Even there, Simon’s face was completely unmarked by the repeated hits it took in the ring while the blows he gave to a boorish unwanted suitor of Daphne left the latter’s face like an auto wreck.
It is obvious that I am not the target audience for this show and I realized that fairly soon into it. So why did I watch it through to the end? It is because there was one storyline that intrigued me and that was learning the secret identity of the author of a society scandal sheet that everyone read. She wrote under the pseudonym of Lady Whistledown and also provided the voiceover narration, done by Julie Andrews. I have always been a sucker for a whodunnit mysteries and amused myself trying to guess who she was. I got it right even though it was, like everything else, highly implausible.
Also at the beginning, I was intrigued by what I thought was a bold attempt at color-blind casting. Although the period is set around 1800, the queen consort Charlotte is Black and the lords and ladies are a good mix of white and people of color. It was pretty easy to get used to having actors of color play characters who would have been white. But then suddenly in the fourth episode, the Duke of Hastings and his aunt Lady Danbury, both of whom are Black, have a conversation in which it is revealed that it was only when King George III married Charlotte that everything suddenly changed and even aristocrats could be people of color. So far from becoming a bold effort at color-blind casting that showed how people of any color could play people of any color, this series became an alternative history, and a tortured one at that, in which actors were cast according to the color of their character, which I found much less interesting.
For alternative histories to work, one has to switch a basic idea and then change the other parts of history to be consistent with it. Many of the aristocrats are so because of heredity. Having a king marry a queen of color would not change their lineages unless that happened far back in time and society started integrating then, a process that would take centuries to show its effects. King George III and Queen Charlotte are actual historical figures and there had been unsubstantiated rumors that Charlotte had African ancestry. The writers had seized on this and used it as the starting point for their alternative history. That is fine. What is problematic is to act as if that could change within one generation the entire color spectrum of English aristocracy and have it become seamlessly integrated. By the time this utterly implausible and preposterous twist was introduced, I was too much into trying to figure out who Lady Whistledown was to stop watching, which was why I found the story of Eloise and Penelope more interesting, since Eloise was on a quest to identify her, looking for clues everywhere.
The series did solve one puzzle for me. I have often wondered what the hell these aristocrats did all day. They did not work, since the poor serfs are the ones who did all the work and were forced to give most of their earnings to their masters to enable the wealthy to live extravagantly opulent lives, sort of like today. The aristocrats had a bunch of servants who took care of all their daily needs, however mundane. So how did they occupy their time? I now think that they were all practicing dancing. In the show, there seem to be balls pretty much all the time in which people engage in a variety of complex dances that require fancy steps and circling around and changing partners. It is similar to square dancing except with no caller up front constantly cuing people as to what to do. It seems to require more precision than for synchronized swimming at the Olympics. One false move, such as turning left when one should turn right, could send everyone crashing to the ground like dominos. And yet, as soon as the music strikes up, they all line up in formation and dance flawlessly. That must require intense daily practice, though the show does not show that.
Here’s the trailer.
Marcus Ranum says
Why watch that dreck when Barry Lyndon exists?
Tabby Lavalamp says
The treatment of Meghan Markle in the 21st Century shows just how uncomfortable the Brits would have been with people of colour in the aristocracy… well, ever. You don’t build an empire out of deciding that lands with non-white inhabitants are yours now and not be just a wee bit racist.
Marcus Ranum says
Howard Zinn once said “there is no race problem in Morrisdale Pennsylvania, until a black person moves into town.” The royals have been able to not address their racism by not having anyone who isn’t a lily-white Russian/German in their family.
Well, there are people who do that kind of dancing now, and they’re not aristocrats. It’s not as hard as you might think. And though in real life it’s not quite as “precision” as you see in the show (I assume — I haven’t watched it), but no, mistakes do not result in everyone crashing to the ground.
The thing is, in previous generations, people did a lot more dancing than now. Pretty much everyone danced — some better than others. They didn’t have TV or smart phones or Fox News to take up their time. Generally, everyone in an area or village would know the two or three dances that everyone did whenever a dance was organized, so there was no need for a “caller.” And there were “dancing masters” who would go around instructing people in the dances that everyone did, at least in some times and places. If you were an aristocrat, dancing would of course be one of the social graces you were instructed in starting at an early age.
Nowadays, that style of dancing is mostly done in dancing clubs — organizations dedicated to doing a particular style of dancing, just for fun. Near me is a group that meets weekly to do what is called “English Country Dance,” and another that does “Scottish Country Dance,” and there are a bunch of groups that do a Virginia Reel kind of dancing called “contra” which is what most people in New England villages did maybe 50-100 years ago. (Maybe still do, in some places.)
Well, yes, probably. And hunting. And shooting. And fishing. And running banks and so on. A friend of our family had a job as PA to an aristo, and despite not having anything apparent that they HAVE to do, the mere business of owning half of Buckinghamshire can fill a surprising amount of your time.
As for the colourblind casting it wouldn’t be a modern series if they weren’t having a go at virtue signalling. When it makes sense (a Black companion on Doctor Who! A woman playing the Doctor! A Black woman playing the Doctor -- FUCK YEAH!) it’s good, when something like this comes up it does look like those on the Right are right, which is really fucking annoying.
file thirteen says
Yeah, nah, not for me. My current recommendation is Strangers From Hell (Korean)
John Morales says
Oh, yes. All the bowing and scraping, all the fetes and parties, all the adulation, all the luxury. It is just awful.
Surely nobody ever has suffered more terrible torments than fucking Markle.
chigau (違う) says
Barry Lyndon bored me to tears but I was 20 years old when I saw it. Maybe I’d appreciate more at 65.
I liked Bridgerton because it is very pretty. I could tell right from the beginning that it was a fantasy, so the anomalies didn’t bother me.
John Morales says
Sympathetic fluff, no doubt. I mean, it’s all over the news right now.
Who is Kate Middleton? <checks>
Ah. Presumably, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, not the diver.
I have zero idea of what they’ve written about either, I’m not much for following the lives of the rich and the privileged royals of England. Sympathetic fluff, no doubt.
So, tell me more about this alleged horrible treatment. About the suffering she’s suffered — this poor oppressed woman who suffers a life of privilege and luxury.
Ah yes, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Just Wikipedia’d her bio while I’m at it.
“Meghan and her husband were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in a television special for CBS, broadcast on March 7, 2021, Oprah with Meghan and Harry. Meghan spoke about “stepping into life as a royal, marriage, motherhood” and “how she is handling life under intense public pressure”. She discussed contemplating suicide during her time as a working royal and talked about the lack of protection for her and her son while being part of the royal institution.”
Of course! How could she do possibly do better than featuring in a TV special with Oprah to cope with her intense public pressure?
(The more I read, the more irritated I become, and the less sympathy I have)
@Tabby Lavalamp, 8:
Laughing out loud at what is either just ignorance or deliberate selective memory. Time was the press absolutely slated Middleton, the upstart commoner and her non-U middle-class family with their tacky business interests polluting the royal bloodline. But no, can’t threaten the narrative that Markle has been uniquely and solely targetted.
Not being into this sort of show (never seen even ten seconds of Downton Abbey) I had to go to Wikipedia, thinking this might be hyperbole. Surely there must be at least one big name (like Maggie Smith in Downton). But no, it’s a solid slate of D-listers on screen all the way down. The only one I’d even heard of was Ben Miller, the comedy partner of Alexander Armstrong (I say that, but his comedy career was whisper it, twenty years ago -- he’s primarily an actor now). Interesting chap, started a PhD in solid-state physics at Cambridge after graduating in Natural Scienes from St. Catharines, and his great-great-great-great grandfather was Samuel Lincoln, who had a well-known great-grandson of the same surname.
Apparently Julie Andrews does a voice-over, but that hardly counts.
I’m not sure how much it’s still taught, but in my day (80s) it was pretty much impossible to go through school in Scotland without having at least the half-dozen most common Scottish Country dances drummed into you. Everybody hated it at the time, but it’s surprising how that stuff stays with you.
“Bridgerton” sounded to me like somebody trying to imagine what Jane Austen might have written if she had modern sensibilities and was allowed to write sex scenes.
BTW, I watched “Downton Abbey” in its entirety, and overall I came away seeing it as a dissertation by Fellowes on exactly why the aristocracy rightly ended up in the dustbin of history. The main ahistorical bit was that the earl was an affable idiot rather than (as many of them were) a vicious idiot. But it was clear he realized that these people added nothing of value to society.
They did? Here I was thinking they were still around, still in government, and still possessed of vast estates and huge fortunes. I must’ve missed a memo. Looks like they missed it too…
Of course I see that. I’d have to be about your level to miss it.
What you SAID was, and I quote: “you can read what the press have fucking written about her, Morales. See how it compares to how they’ve written about Kate Middleton”
And I pointed out that, inconveniently for your narrative in that last sentence, until Meghan came along, Middleton was at least as big and juicy a target for the tabloids (in the UK at least) as Markle has ever been. They had a field day with her, her parents, her sister, the lot -- the commoner who snagged the heir to the throne. Maybe you don’t remember it. Maybe you don’t WANT to remember it because it doesn’t fit with what you’re selling. The only difference, and it is an insignificant one unless you have an agenda, is that she was targeted on the basis of class, not race, but that’s the UK for you -- our racial minorities are smaller and more recent (mostly) so the main point of tension is class. I don’t expect Yanks to get that, but there it is. If you can’t be bothered to understand the difference, that’s on you.
And yes, obviously, once the press moved onto a different target they changed their tune on Saint Kate like the rabid bunch of hypocrites they are because once there was a juicier target on the range she was more use to them as a contrast. Pretty much the same playbook played out when the press started having a go at Diana for being thick in about 1982, and only sainted her once the ginger fat one turned up and married the paedophile.
Deepak Shetty says
Uhh yeah -- The Trailers and Shondra Rhimes should have indicated it.
I watch this with my spouse and we’ll watch season 2 too (and its because it is unrealistic!) -- realistic fare of olden times will have to be dark and depressing (And almost no one wanted to watch that in 2020). Social commentary, in such series , if any, will be vey simplistic and naive.
Fasten down your tinfoil hat, people, shit’s about to get silly:
It literally just occurred to me that all the hoohaa around the interview is a really, REALLY excellent distraction. I mean, pretty much every news story about the royals now is about this, and it’s likely to be that way going forward for quite some time. Meghan’s upset, the Queen’s upset, some equerry is upset, blah blah. Nobody is talking about the Pizza Express-frequenting non-sweater any more, are they? “RACISM” is acceptable and deniable as a headline. It’s way better than “RAPIST AND PAEDOPHILE”.
Seriously -- if Harry and Meghan REALLY wanted to bugger things up, they wouldn’t be pulling focus from Andrew, they’d be pointing the press at him. They’re doing a brilliant job of making everyone talk about something else.