Bridgerton backlash: does the show celebrate toxic relationships?

Hannah Parkinson rounds up the backlash around the portrayal of relationships in Netflix's smash hit Bridgerton.

Hannah Parkinson
2nd March 2021
If you aren’t already one of the 82 million people who have streamed Bridgerton you've either: a. completed your assignments on time. Or b. you live in Jesmond and have made the unfortunate decision to sign up with Virgin Media.

In the Netflix drama, produced by the powerhouse Shondaland, Pride and Prejudice meets Gossip Girl. The show was released on the 25th December follows the life of innocent debutante Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) as she collides, quite literally, with 1813’s ‘rugby boy’ Simon Bassett (Regé-Jean Page). Who unfortunately also happens to be her eldest brother's best friend. The location: the competitive and exclusive 17th century marriage market. 

However, despite the show’s success viewers took to social media to voice their concerns about Bridgerton’s apparent celebration of toxic relationships. The backlash indicates how the balance between a desire for drama contends with traditional romantic conventions. The show follows this time-honoured tradition of two individuals falling in love and their struggle to make it work. The plot neatly ending with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Olivia Petter writes in The Independent  the ‘portrayal of relationships is concerning’ in reference to the initial faux romance between the couple, specifically, Simon’s false pretence at love. Indeed, in Episode 5 Simon makes a moving declaration to the Queen in order to allow for an early wedding despite having denounced the possibility of  proposing to Daphne in the previous episode. Ellen Nguyen who writes for Cosmo tweeted ‘Bridgerton is pretty but I wish it wasn’t centred around toxic relationships’ reiterated concerns about emotionally manipulative relationships. For viewers the show offers a platform in which to discuss power relations between characters while still offering a stereotypical ‘happy ending’. 

"Whether or not you agree with this statement, the show explores the toxic masculinity of a push-pull relationship that results in havoc between couples."

It’s not a ‘happy ending’ for all the characters in Season 1. A tumultuous on-off relationship between Daphne’s eldest brother Antony Bridgerton (Jonathon Bailey) and Sienna Rosso (Sabrina Bartlett) ends in tears as the show explores the conflicts that emerge when dating across the class divide. In her article for Vogue, Serena Smith argues their ‘transgressive relationship in Regency society.. was always doomed’. Whether or not you agree with this statement, the show explores the toxic masculinity of a push-pull relationship that results in havoc between couples. By the season finale, Sienna ends the affair as Antony continues his string of false promises to elope. A definite 21st century power move. 

Like Grease’s Danny and Sandy or Normal People’s Connell and Marianne viewers are encapsulated by the conflicts that exist in relationships. Whether you like or dislike the relationships within Bridgeton the show's portrayal opens up discourse surrounding historical and present day affairs, exchanges, and marriage. Our obsession with categorising events into a binary of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ignores the multifaceted nature of love. Rather the relationships in Bridgerton allow for discussion about love, consent, and truth to be brought to the forefront. Their relevance to the modern cannot be ignored. Actions are there to be challenged and as a viewer it allows us the opportunities to decide what we do and do not want in a relationship. 

Featured image via Pinterest

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