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A few days ago, I happened to watch parts of the Netflix hit show created by famed executive producer Shonda Rhimes called Bridgerton.
Bridgerton is a wonderful Regency England period piece that features some really good looking characters, pretty scenery, beautiful clothing, posh British accents and a racially diverse cast. Never mind that most people think the racial diversity is historically inaccurate. The show is mostly meant to be entertaining.
Overall I enjoyed watching the show although I think they overdid some of the scenes so that it ended up looking more like 50 Shades of Grey than a show that is supposed to have been inspired by Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.
For me, the breakout star of the show is actor Rege-Jean Page who plays the role of Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings. According to Page, his character is supposed to be very different from other Regency era romantic leads in that he is defined by a more modern perspective when it comes to his thought processes.
Despite the modern perspective, Bridgerton resorts to some very common and overdone tropes when it comes to masculinity and the romantic male lead. Here is a dissection of the major tropes that are not just common to Bridgerton but also to other regency era shows and literature.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The Physically Perfect Male Lead
The male romantic lead has to be almost physically perfect. In Bridgerton, the romantic male lead Simon Basset flawlessly fits the stereotype of the tall, dark, handsome, and brooding hero that could be found on the front cover of any Harlequin romance.
In this regard, he is just like all the other romantic leads of the regency era. For example, take the case of Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In the book, Mr. Darcy is also described as being a mysterious and romantic hero.
Colin Firth’s adaptation of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 movie Pride and Prejudice is considered to be the best portrayal of Mr. Darcy. Physically, Colin Firth’s Darcy has an enviable male physique with broad shoulders and a square jaw.
The other secondary male characters that appear in the show pale in comparison to the physical perfection of a Mr. Darcy or Simon Basset.
The Very Wealthy and Upperclass Male Lead
In Bridgerton, Simon Basset is the Duke of Hastings. As a member of the aristocracy, he is naturally wealthy. His wife’s family, the Bridgertons are also titled and wealthy, but at one point in the show, it is shown that he lives in an even bigger house than the Bridgertons. The intent here was to show that the Duke was wealthier than his wife.
In the same way, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is also wealthier than Elizabeth Bennet. He earned a significant income and owned the grand estate of Pemberley and other property assets. It was definitely considered a great match for Elizabeth Bennet to marry Mr. Darcy based on his wealth alone.
The Cold and Aloof Male Lead
When Daphne first meets Simon in Bridgerton, he is a little aloof and arrogant with her. He doesn’t want to get married and makes a request of Daphne that they should both have a fake courtship. Even after he gets to know her, he is still reserved when it comes to certain matters and is unable to share his feelings about it with Daphne.
In the same manner, Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice also acts arrogant and aloof with Elizabeth Bennet especially in the early stages of their relationship.
There are many cases of the cold and aloof hero being a recurring theme throughout regency era romances and even in more contemporary romances. The stoic and brooding hero is kept on a pedestal as the standard of the classic leading man.
The Male Lead Who Beats Out the Competition
In Bridgerton, Daphne is pursued by 2 other ardent suitors in addition to Simon. While one suitor is clearly unsuitable for her, the other suitor would have actually made a great match for Daphne.
The other suitor was a prince and titled higher than Simon who was only a duke. More importantly, the prince was a good man who was nicer to Daphne than Simon. The prince was very interested in marrying Daphne while Simon had no intention of wanting to marry Daphne. Yet, it is Simon who ends up with Daphne.
Clearly, in Bridgerton, nice guys finish last especially when they are not as good looking as the romantic lead.
Breaking the Mold
While Bridgerton manages to follow the crowd in sticking to the same overdone male leads, they have also attempted to break the mold and set themselves apart as a more modern 21st century regency romance.
For example, Simon does fit the stereotype of the rich, handsome, brooding, and mysterious suitor, but he also exhibits a vulnerability that is very different from other male leads in regency era romances.
Bridgerton spends a lot of time showcasing the struggle that Simon feels about loving Daphne. He is unable to openly express his love because he spends most of his time chasing his childhood demons. It takes much introspection and even some help from Daphne before he opens up.
As of the time of writing this, it was reported that Bridgerton had the 5th biggest premiere in Netflix history. In addition, Netflix has projected that the show will have been viewed by 63 million households in 4 weeks. It is a huge hit for Netflix and for Shonda Rhimes.
However, the show has not been without its controversies because of its depiction of steamy love scenes and its showcase of racial diversity at a time when racism was at its peak leading to criticism of its historical inaccuracies.
I don’t disagree here, but this show was created for the purpose of pure entertainment and I don’t mind that some liberties have been taken on this front.
Most likely, there will be a Season 2 of Bridgerton and it will be interesting to see if they will continue showcasing the regency era tropes of the perfect man.