Imagine, dear reader, that you have been to the pub. As ever, your intention is to bump elbows over half a pint before cycling home like the low carbon hipster European that you are. Of course you end up staying for 7 pints and eating a small packet of flavourless crisps for dinner before realising that you don’t want to leave your bike outside a pub overnight, so you decide cycle home along the quiet backstreets. Anyone who has tried this (not me, honest mum!) will know how it goes. You will see the blurry outline of a parked car 50 metres away and realise that no matter what you do you will crash in to it. Your drunken mind can only see its destiny approaching and, despite the crisps, lacks any capacity to alter course. Slow motion embarrassment ensues.
And so it was for me when Bridgerton hit Netflix, despite half a lifetime of complaining about the dreariness of period dramas. Unlike my Downton obsessed compatriots, for whom upstairs downstairs isn’t even a euphemism, I actually read to the end of our GCSE English exam-board-enforced period drama, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Catherine, a young, naive, bourgeois woman hits Bath in search of a gratifying carriage ride and, just maybe, a morally upstanding husband. But she takes with her a terrible secret. Although she is reasonably rich, she’s actually not that rich. She goes on to meet two men: a jolly cad who flits about town making unmarried women giggle (not a euphemism), and a dullard whose father has a big house in the countryside. After 150 or so pages of scurrilous gossip about her father’s middling income, Mr Tilney (the dullard) proposes, the two patriarchs of the book give their blessing and we assume they live happily ever after. There was also a few quite exciting paragraphs where Catherine had a bad dream. Sorry, *spoiler alert*. All in all, it was not a great introduction to regency period literature. Nevertheless, 15 years late and buoyed by well sound tracked Netflix adverts and a furlong of newspaper columns about the incorrect usage of library furniture, my inevitable bike crash began.
The story begins with social season, which itself begins with a parade of young women before the Queen of England, to be introduced to society as being available for marriage, and also so that the Queen can determine who will be the “diamond of the season”. Here we are forced to accept that a parade of women in front of the Queen is a magical experience, akin to a flower’s petals bursting open in the spring sun, despite what we think of other parades of admittedly differently attired women in a Snoop Dogg video.
The next few episodes capture why Bridgerton is inescapably endearing. Unlike in most period dramas, the main characters seem to be 21st century people parachuted in to an old-world British culture, with only their wits to chart their course to success, all the while trapped within the confines of social acceptability. We then readily drop our analysis as The Duke of Hastings enters stage left, since he is entirely too dashing and has a roguish habit of doing everything slightly sideways- standing, sitting, walking, riding a horse, having sex, boxing and I can’t highlight this strongly enough, misusing library furniture.
From then on half of the story is a re-hash of Much Ado About Nothing, whereby after much joshing two very different people end up falling in love. Except Benedick and Beatrice were hilarious, whereas Daphne is a stressy social climber and the Duke has few traits other than being dashing, rich and sideways. The other half of the story is yet more social events, especially grand Balls, where families drink together before trying to marry off their offspring.
Quite naturally then the whole thing made me think of Karl Marx.
One part of Das Kapital that never makes it on to student billboards or in to The Guardian is his begrudging admiration for the nouveau riche. Of course he saw them as having amassed great wealth from the excess labour of the proletariat, be he saw also that they possessed the spirit to create change and to drive forward technology, rapidly changing the world around them. It was the exploitation of the workers that agitated him, not the new world that they were creating.
He would, then, have hated Bridgerton. The nouveua riche, with otherwise such grand ambition, squandering the excess labour of the proles on garden parties, all so they can marry their daughter in to old money. As revolutionary as technological progress at all costs was, there was apparently nothing like the social prestige that comes from inheriting, rather than buying your furniture.
Would I recommend you watch Bridgerton? If you enjoyed the trailer and don’t care much for class struggle, have at it! At the very least, it’s a better post-pub activity than cycling.
And other TV things
As you might have gathered I generally find period dramas a little dull and formulaic. The great works of TV and cinema, for me, stand out because they present you with a world far beyond what you could have created with your own imagination. My go to example is Blade Runner 2049.
I am perplexed, then, by the trailer for the next Fast and Furious film.
Possibly it contains the greatest line in modern cinema: “Damn! They got a magnet plane?”. A magnet plane is superficially stupid but it is also far beyond the limits of what I could have imagined. I’ve been backed in to a corner and I am forced to admit that Fast and Furious 9 will be a cinematic great.
I end this ramble, as a two wheeled European, with some notes on the Brexit shaped hole in the spirit of pan-European competition. Britain’s traditional nul-points in Eurovision seemed deserved, although it was a success in my mother’s eyes, who enjoyed the contrast with “all that European razmatazz”. Seemingly as a sharp riposte to this musical insult, the Continent has united in calling the English arrogant for chanting that Football’s Coming Home. On the contrary, our inevitable victory in the Euros will replace the longing, the dreams, the disappointments and the entire bittersweet nature of supporting England captured in those verses with a big lump of shiny silver. So for one last time, take it away boys: