Netflix’s Bridgerton has been buzzing all over social media since its release. After all the hype it was getting, I knew I had to see it for myself. Once I started getting into the series, though, I began having doubts about the feminist facade it seemed to be projecting versus the execution. (Warning: spoilers for episode six follow).
One thing that immediately stood out was that the writers and costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick, chose to play into the myth that stays and corsets were restrictive torture devices that were always tightlaced and dug into the skin. This trope is common in period dramas as a metaphor for a female character’s oppression.
For more on where Bridgerton is more problematic than progressive, and to see a list of shows and movies that are far more feminist, keep reading.
What bothered me the most, though, was that in episode six, Daphne rapes her new husband Simon by not letting him pull out during sex. This is then played off as a moment of female empowerment, with Daphne yelling at Simon because he had “tricked” her by pulling out every time previous. Daphne didn’t understand that pulling out prevented pregnancy, but Simon had tried to make it clear before they agreed to marry that he didn’t want children. I found this quite upsetting to watch, compounded by the fact that Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) is a white woman and Simon (Regé-Jean Page) is a Black man.
If you enjoyed Bridgerton but want to watch something that feels more sincerely feminist, there are other period series and films out there for you to enjoy.
- Anne with an E. This three-season fan favorite about an orphan who finds a loving home in 1890s Canada will tug at your heartstrings. This adaptation introduces feminism, racism, homosexuality, classism, and more into the beloved Anne book series by L.M. Montgomery. While it’s darker than previous adaptations, it’s also more real in a lot of ways. Streaming on Netflix.
- Gentleman Jack. This series is based on the incredible true story of Anne Lister, an English lesbian landowner and intellectual. It chronicles her life in the 1830s when she meets the love of her life, Ann Walker–I won’t spoil what happens next, but it’s beautiful! Added bonus: gorgeous costumes and a catchy theme. Streaming on HBO Max.
- Les Miserables. The 2019 miniseries is the latest in a long line of adaptations of Victor Hugo’s epic, but the diverse cast and proximity to the novel set this version apart from the others. The story follows French convict Jean Valjean through several decades as he reckons with his past and changes lives. Get the tissues ready! Streaming on PBS Masterpiece.
- The Great. A humorous take on Catherine the Great’s early time as Empress of Russia starring none other than Elle Fanning. The costume and production designs are to die for, and we get a diverse cast too. It’s a really fun and easy watch for when you don’t feel like getting into something too heavy. Streaming on Hulu.
- Emma. If you wanted to enjoy Bridgerton, this one’s for you. This film is nothing short of a celebration of the Regency era, with stunningly detailed costumes, eye-catching pastel interiors and witticisms galore. What I liked the most about it is that it features a heroine with realistic faults who owns up to them in the end. Charlotte Brontë would be quite pleased. Streaming on HBO Max.
- Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. This is one of those series that could have done with many more seasons, but ah, such is life! Phryne Fisher is a fashionable and street-savvy private detective in 1920s Australia. Although it only ran for three seasons, it was followed by a spinoff about Phryne’s niece in the 1960s called Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries. Streaming on YouTube TV.