From dazzling debutantes and delicious dandies to smouldering passions barely simmering beneath tightly-fitted corsets, it’s no wonder Netflix’s sumptuous period drama Bridgerton has become the talk of the “ton”.
Despite launching only three weeks ago, the streaming platform predicts its latest global hit, from Shondaland and creator Chris Van Dusen, will have been watched by 63 million households before the end of the month – making it the fifth most watched Netflix Originals series ever.
As I churn out these eye-popping statistics, historical romance author Julia Quinn shakes her head in disbelief and smiles widely during a friendly Zoom chat from her Seattle-based home.
“There’s some numbers I can wrap my head around, but like 63 million – honestly it’s too big for me to even conceive of,” she laughs.
Telling her that’s almost the entire population of the UK doesn’t help.
Set between 1813 and 1827, the Jewish author’s hugely popular Bridgerton novels each feature one of the alphabetically-named children of the late Viscount Bridgerton: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth.
Her first book, The Duke And I, largely formed the basis for the Netflix adaptation and focuses on eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and her debut onto Regency London’s competitive marriage market.
Despite being called “the incomparable” by Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), Daphne finds herself without any proposals, prompting the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) – the author of a high society scandal sheet – to cast aspersions about her.
Meanwhile, Simon Bassett aka the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), a committed bachelor who enjoys nothing more than “raking” across the continent, is being hounded by ambitious mothers.
The two concoct a plan to fake their courtship. Seen as unavailable, he will be left alone, while Daphne will become more desirable to other suitors.
But despite their proclamations they have no interest in each other, it soon becomes abundantly clear the two were made for each other.
For Quinn – whose real name is Julie Pottinger – the rocketing success of Bridgerton is not only “an incredible achievement”, but also extremely surprising.
In the literary world, the 50-year-old author is a household name, having penned 18 consecutive New York Times bestsellers and sold more than 10 million copies in the US alone.
But, she explains, her genre of historical romances rarely get adapted for television.
“Period dramas like a Jane Austen adaptation, which are wonderful, or the glorious Downton Abbey have romance in them, but they are not a historical romance. They don’t always have that happy ending.
“The thing Bridgerton really accomplishes is that when you finish all eight episodes, you have that same set of feelings as when you read a romance novel.”
Perhaps other production companies thought the plotlines of such novels too syrupy for audiences, but Bridgerton has just about disproved that. In fact, escapism and romantic fantasy right now seem like the perfect antidotes to living through a pandemic.
“I do think the timing of the show was fortuitous,” agrees Quinn. “2020 was for most of us the worst year in our lifetime, if not for each of us personally, at least collectively. To have something like this at the end just turned out to be exactly what we needed.”
While staying close to the novel, which was penned by Quinn 20 years ago, the television version does make some changes, notably switching the race of some characters originally written as white, such as the duke and the acerbic dowager who raised him, Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh).
Meanwhile, new character Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, is portrayed by Guyanese-British actress Rosheuvel.
“It’s wonderful,” gushes Quinn. “Television is a different medium than a book and you make it more diverse and inclusive.
“They decided to create a slightly alternate world, based on a historical nugget that Queen Charlotte may have had an African background.
“The idea was, say that had been acknowledged and accepted, that she used it to elevate others in society, what would the world look like?”
Quinn describes herself as “not a very visual author” and admits to never having a preconceived idea of how her characters should look.
She adds: “The thing that blew my mind was when they began to cast the actors, and I had faces to go with the characters I had created. As soon as they opened their mouth, I was like, yes, that’s exactly what I meant.”
She grew up reading romance novels and has been writing since graduating in art history from Harvard. Quinn was a published author by the time she started her graduate degree at Yale medical school, but left after just a few months to pursue her first passion.
Quinn laughs when I remind her that, only this week, creator Van Dusen said he would love to make another seven series.
“Every person I know sent me that headline. That would be amazing, but hopefully we’ll see the return of Bridgerton at least once more.”
Her 63 million newly-found fans no doubt hope the same.
Bridgerton is available to watch now on Netflix
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