Problematic portrayals

April 3, 2022

The second season of Bridgerton has quickly jumped to a Top 10 spot on Netflix despite having a slower pace than its predecessor

Problematic portrayals

The Bridgertons are back after a successful season last year to enthuse the romance fiends in us. This time around, the rakish, brooding, deeply troubled viscount, Anthony Bridgerton, is in pursuit of a wife. She must be a proper lady ready to take on the responsibility of running a household in tow with her noble husband. However, there is a twist - it is not love that the viscount desires; he only wishes to fulfil his duty to his family.

The series inspired by Julia Quinn’s wildly popular novels that follow the romantic journeys of each of the eight Bridgerton children manages to hit the soft spot for romance readers and rom-com watchers. However, to the dismay of some, the second instalment fails to reach the climactic frenzy and fragility of a true, sizzling romance. But for those fascinated by a slow-burn, Austen-like, restrained plotline, the second season is as much a treat as the steamy Daphne-Simon affair of the first.

Grand balls, vicious gossip, handcrafted empire-waist dresses, glittering jewels, peacocks, zebras, and the many scandals of the fashionable society (the ton) are enough to dazzle the viewers’ imaginations. But the glamour of the 19th-Century romance is marred by the tone-deaf inclusion of South Asian characters to create a sense of diversity and inclusivity.

According to lovers of the source material, the Anthony Briderton and Kate Sheffield romance of The Viscount Who Loved Me is sorely lacking between the viscount and Kathani Sharma aka Kate of the Netflix series.

People argue that the intense chemistry of the book’s protagonists is far more exciting and believable.

The anglicised portrayal of Indian characters is what perturbs viewers from South Asia. The Bridgerton series from the first season never promised to portray historical realities accurately, tampering with the regency period romances of the London society to provide the viewer with a modern interpretation of decades-old stories.

One cannot help but wonder why the series’ makers are so bent on painting a much rosier picture of a time when Indians were fighting to protect their identities and culture under British rule; when their women were thought ill-dressed, their muslin too sheer, their manners too rough. Why, then, have two elegant young women of South Asian origin, garbed in the fashion of the ton, speak the British vernacular, perform the ballroom dances and waltz around at cue, hoping to marry into nobility? It is beyond unreal. Yet, the delectable tale of a lovers’ union against all odds keeps the viewer watching with a few yawns in-between.

The credit for building excitement and keeping the viewer watching does not sit solely with the viscount or the Sharma sisters. Some of it also rests with Bridgerton family, the Featheringtons and the Queen.

Also, if anyone is wondering what the Queen keeps sniffing throughout the season, it is tobacco and not a hard drug, as some have speculated. In a recent interview, Golda Rosheuvel, who plays Queen Charlotte, assured her fans that the Queen is snorting a form of tobacco called snuff, which was popular amongst the upper classes during the 1800s because it was scentless - smoking in public was considered improper.

One cannot help but wonder why the series’ makers are so bent on painting a much rosier picture of a time when Indians were fighting to protect their identities and culture under British rule; when their women were thought ill-dressed, their muslin too sheer, their manners too rough.

From the first episode, the viewer is informed that Lord Anthony Bridgerton is looking for a wife. As soon as the Queen chooses her diamond for the season, we see the viscount pursuing the affections of young Ms Edwina, all the while trying to subdue his passion for the elder Ms Sharma, who shares his stubbornness and profound sense of loyalty to family. As the series progresses the locking eyes, subtle touches and heated arguments between Kate and Anthony intensify. The build-up continues for far too many episodes until the two finally give in to passion, temptation and desire. No one finds out, though, and no one is forced into marriage; it happens in time, willingly, gladly.

This season also has Eloise Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington’s (Lady Whistledown) friendship tested as the former discovers the identity of the scandal sheet’s writer. One is reminded of the Lady Sybil and Tom Branson partnership from Downton Abbey in Eloise’s and print shop worker Theo Sharpe’s friendship. The witty banter between the two is memorable and their separation heart breaking.

The Featheringtons continue to navigate troubles in this season as well. Their fortune hangs in the balance as their charlatan of a cousin inherits the title of Lord Featherington. Lady Featherington, one realises as the season ends, is not entirely conniving. She cares for her children.

Coming back to the two main characters, Kate and Anthony, the viewer realises that they are troubled by their pasts, the responsibilities they have had to shoulder ever since each of their fathers’ passing. Love stories with happy endings are what the viewers expect from Bridgerton, and Viscount Bridgerton and Kate Sharma provide them just that but only after much persuasion through fate and loved ones.

The high point of the series, and definitely worth mentioning, are the classical instrumental covers of popular songs played on important occasions throughout the season. Nirvana’s Stay Away plays as Anthony frantically meets with potential matches. How could one miss Diamonds by Rihanna playing in the background as the Queen ponders her decision to declare the season’s diamond, or the cover of Harry Styles’ absolutely soulful ballad, Sign of the Times, playing as Ms Edwina walks down the aisle towards Lord Bridgerton on their wedding day at the palace hosted by the Queen? And the night before, when the Sharma ladies are putting the traditional turmeric paste (haldi) on each other in a room filled with marigolds, reminiscent of haldi/ mehndi ceremonies of this region, plays a version of the title track from Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham. From Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus, What About Us by P!nk, and Material Girl by Madonna, the list of instrumentals is rather exciting and appreciable.

The pace of the season is definitely restrained. There are a few sub-textual issues; however, for a Bridgerton fan, it is a good watch, perhaps not the most engaging after the last season, yet memorable for different reasons. Without doubt, it can be said that after watching Season 2, we are ready for the next one to learn more about the other characters, their stories, friendships and enmities. And, yes, we are ready to consume another tale of love from the pages of regency-era romance.

The writer is a staff member

Problematic portrayals