Why Are Regency-Era Shows Like ‘Bridgerton’ So Popular?

From Smithsonian Magazine:

The opening of “The Courtship,” USA Network’s newest foray into the canon of high-concept reality dating shows, ends with a cheekily revised quote from a beloved author: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in search of a husband must go to Regency-era England and live in a castle with sixteen eligible suitors. –Jane Austen, probably,” the words on the screen read. The “probably” appears a moment later, as a glib afterthought.

In “The Courtship,” Nicole Rémy, a Black cheerleader–turned­–software engineer from Seattle, seeks love in a format best described as “The Bachelorette” meets casual Regency cosplay. The show frequently references Austen and the time period she chronicled: the turn of the 19th century. The author lived and wrote during the reign of George III (1760 to 1820), also known as the Georgian Period. Her novels were published during the Regency, an 1811 to 1820 window in which George, Prince of Wales, ruled as regent in lieu of his father, whom Parliament had deemed mentally unfit to rule.

“The Courtship” takes its cue from the Regency period—“the most romantic era of history,” as the host informs the audience in a crisp British accent. Another spun-sugar springtime television release clearly shares the belief: season two of “Bridgerton,” Netflix’s pastel-hued, racy adaptation of contemporary author Julia Quinn’s romance novels. The Regency-set series broke Netflix viewership records and made representational strides by imagining protagonists of color as British royalty and aristocrats. Similarly, the second season of “Sanditon,” a lower-profile import from the United Kingdom that uses Austen’s unfinished novel of the same name as a point of departure, features the writer’s only prominent Black character, an heiress from the West Indies. The season premiered March 20 on Masterpiece PBS.

All three series revel in the trappings audiences associate with Austen novels: soirees where eligible singles swan about, horse-drawn carriages, the watchful eyes of rivals and family on a couple as they twirl around a ballroom, conversations over tea, ample opportunities for dramatic speeches about undying love. On “The Courtship,” where everyone is formally referred to by title and last name, would-be-husbands write “Miss Rémy” handwritten letters, and episodes end with choreographed dances that double as dismissal ceremonies. (“Farewell. Your carriage awaits,” Rémy proclaims to spurned men dressed like they’re Cinderella’s footmen.) “Bridgerton” and “The Courtship” even share a set; the same estate that serves as the site of a long montage of Daphne Bridgerton and her new husband, the Duke of Hastings, in, ahem, marital bliss, is the location where Rémy’s suitors woo her.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

5 thoughts on “Why Are Regency-Era Shows Like ‘Bridgerton’ So Popular?”

  1. Honestly, for modern audiences, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that back then, thanks to the massive number of rules surrounding proper behavior, it was possible to be “daring” and “transgressive” without doing things that were either egregiously stupid or jerkish.

    That, and the Regency era is kind of in the sweet spot for historical fiction–far enough back that general societal attitudes are different and the costuming is exotic and classy, but close enough to our time that it’s at least somewhat plausible for the viewpoint characters to have some modern attitudes.

  2. The reason regency is and has been so popular is because everyone involved is rich and does not have to actually work for a living.

    • Rent seekers the lot of them. 😀
      The same of teen and college dramas like Gossip Girl.
      Curiously, the last Nancy Drew series had her working for a living and tanked. Barely 600K viewers.

      They should’ve made her a writer living in a small coastal town with an endless supply of murders.

      • Sure, as Jessica Fletcher also was “titian-haired” … but I also thought of the Drew Barrymore / Lucy Liu / Cameron Diaz “Charlie’s Angels” as an update of Nancy Drew. No seriously, it also featured a redhead, blonde, and brunette trio of sleuthing chums. The original Nancy Drew books always suggested she was stylish and lived a glamorous life, and early 2000s Angels reflected the same aesthetic.

        I don’t watch network TV, so I have to go by what Wikipedia says of the CW version of Nancy Drew. No wonder it tanked: Nancy is supposed to be able to jet off on adventures at a moment’s notice, when she isn’t otherwise driving around in her cool blue Mustang. What even is this waitress business? If she’s working in a restaurant she’s the hostess of some swanky place because she’s friends with the owner; that’s how book-Nancy rolls. For some reason it’s apparently asking too much for the show runners of “reboots” to study their source materials first. Too bad.

  3. Okay, I mentioned the Barrymore/ Liu / Diaz version of Charlie’s Angels. They were stylish and glamorous; publicity shots for the newest version with Kristen Stewart has them looking grungy, like they maybe don’t shower, and fished their clothes out of the laundry hamper.

    I have a suspicion that a love of Regency era has a lot to do with the fact that adults looked like adults, and stylish adults at that. Polished. Someone reviewed an update of Fantasy Island, and said it hurt his soul that the Ricardo Montalban replacement wears wrinkled clothes, as opposed to the impeccable Montalban. I only know Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, but as even Singh was relatively well put together, I’ll take the reviewer’s word for it 🙂

    Regency promises a level of sophistication in manners, tastes, conversation, clothing, etc. Glamour. Plus I’ve seen some romance authors say they like the courtship restraints the characters have to work around; they see it as a pleasant contrast to the coarseness of hookup culture.

    If 1) people hunger for classy eye candy, 2) regency inherently offers up classy eye candy, then 3) regency should be popular. Maybe add a little glamour to other types of stories where applicable.

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