'Derry Girl' Nicola Coughlan on progressive new Netflix period drama Bridgerton
Progressive period drama Bridgerton has just arrived on Netflix. Georgia Humphreys meets its stars, including 'Derry Girl' Nicola Coughlan, to find out more about the bold new show from the makers of Greys' Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder
PERIOD dramas can feel well-worn – like we've seen it all before. But that's far from the case with eight-part series Bridgerton, which follows debutante Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) – one of eight Bridgerton siblings – as she searches for a husband in Regency London.
The scandalous Netflix original is not traditional or conservative, as we might expect: in fact, the show has a distinct "swagger" and "style", as creator Chris Van Dusen puts it.
There is also the sharp, snappy, fast-paced dialogue; ballroom scenes soundtracked to classical re-interpretations of pop songs from the likes of Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift; a fresh, youthful, and effervescent look, thanks to the vibrant set and costumes.
Produced by Shonda Rhimes' Shondaland, the company behind Greys' Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, it feels like a progressive and revolutionary TV experience – and it even features the legendary Julie Andrews as the voice of Lady Whistledown.
Nobody knows Whistledown's true identity, but seeing as she has started putting out newsletters full of gossip about members of high society, people are determined to find out who she really is. You can see why Bridgerton is being described as 'Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey'.
Here is everything else you need to know about the show, which arrived on Netflix on Christmas Day.
:: IT'S INSPIRED BY A SERIES OF BOOKS
Julia Quinn has written more than 30 historical romance novels – 12 of which have been the Bridgerton series. The first one was The Duke and I, which was published in 2000, and formed the basis for the adaptation by Van Dusen, who landed his first writing gig on Grey's Anatomy.
Zimbabwe-born Rege-Jean Page (30) who plays Simon Basset, the charming and mysterious Duke of Hastings, was excited by the way the script was not bound by the "traditional rules" of historical costume dramas.
"We bring in 21st century ideas and concepts and look at the world through this lens," continues the 30-year-old star, who previously worked on Shondaland's legal drama, For the People.
"Because people haven't changed, people still want to live, they still want to love, they still want to figure out who they are, despite what their family wants, what society wants from them."
:: THE STORY EXPLORES FEMALE SEXUALITY
Dynevor (25) "knew that the women were going to be empowered and have agency" in Bridgerton because it was by Shondaland. And we see Daphne's sexual evolution as a young woman "in a time where she didn't know anything about sex".
"She had to learn it from whoever she was lucky or unlucky to be matched with, depending on the person," follows the Waterloo Road star, whose mother Sally Dynevor plays Sally Webster in Coronation Street.
"But I think that was a story that I hadn't necessarily seen told before."
A huge part of Bridgerton is the chemistry between Daphne and Simon; so how was it building that together?
"We had a really long time to prep, and we had dance rehearsals together and an intimacy co-ordinator who went through all those scenes with us. By the time we were on set, we had already formed that connection.
"Particularly when you're doing dance rehearsals, you have that time to connect; you're looking into each other's eyes, you're forming all that romantic juice that hopefully, you see in the show."
:: IT'S A WONDERFULLY INCLUSIVE CAST
Van Dusen notes that on Grey's Anatomy, they "cast the best actors for the roles in ways that represent the world today – and we knew we'd have that same chance with Bridgerton".
He doesn't want to call it "colourblind casting", explaining: "I think that would imply that colour and race aren't considered and I think colour and race are a part of the show and a part of the show's conversation, just like things like class and sexuality and gender are."
"I think the diversity of the show is one of the biggest strengths," enthuses Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan, who plays sharp-witted, book-loving Penelope Featherington.
"Because it's not about creating Regency London as it was exactly; the costumes are Technicolor, the casting is so diverse. And the cast is excellent. Golda Rosheuvel, who plays Queen Charlotte, is a huge favourite of mine. You watch it and go, 'Of course it's them for that role!'
"I think 'colour conscious casting' is such an important thing and it should happen more in the industry, because art should be about expression and about what the world could be, and people should need to see themselves on screen. So that's a thing that really drew me to Bridgerton."
:: MODERN DAY AUDIENCES WILL RELATE TO THE THEMES
Bridgerton is set in a world that is so rife with conflict, through all the rules that young men and young women have to follow and abide by.
But it is sometimes easy to forget while watching that you're being immersed in the 19th century, because the stories the show explores are timeless and universal.
For example, Jonathan Bailey (32), who plays Anthony Bridgerton – the eldest of the siblings – recalls how he drew on the idea of toxic masculinity for his performance.
The Broadchurch and W1A star thought the impact the patriarchy has on men, as well as women, was an interesting theme. Anthony is grappling with "identifying as a man in a world where there's so much currency to being the head of a family and to being a man in that society", he suggests.
"I didn't want to shy away from that, and show someone who's incredibly anxious and who cannot communicate about his emotions and about his happiness – and I think that's a very loud conversation about men at the moment, and mental health in men."
:: THERE ARE PLENTY OF COMPLEX CHARACTERS
Arguably one of the best relationships in the show is between Penelope and her pal Eloise Bridgerton: two characters who don't quite feel they fit in.
"I think everyone has had a feeling of being misunderstood or lost or not heard – and these girls have got each other to do that with," reflects 31-year-old Claudia Jessie, the Vanity Fair and WPC 56 actress who plays Eloise.
Following on from this, Couglan quips: "If you weren't an awkward teenager then fair play to you, but I definitely was. And I think Penelope is so uncomfortable in her own skin and she feels like such an outsider in her own family.
"I think she's lucky that she has that friendship with Eloise, and I was lucky to have that; my best friend from childhood has been my best friend all along, even until now.
"And those female friendships, how precious they are and how formative they are, I'm so glad that we get to represent that on screen."
:: Bridgerton is on Netflix now