Regé-Jean Page as Simon Basset and Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton
Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton and Regé-Jean Page as Simon Basset
Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte and director Tom Verica
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, Polly Walker as Portia Featherington, Harriet Cains as Phillipa Featherington, Ben Miller as Lord Featherington and Bessie Carter as Prudence Featherington
Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte
Polly Walker as Portia Featherington, Ruby Barker as Marina Tompson and Kathryn Drysdale as Genevieve
Harriet Cains as Phillipa Featherington, Bessie Carter as Prudence Featherington and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington
Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne and executive producer Chris Van Dusen
Director Julie Anne Robinson and executive producer Chris Van Dusen
Chris Van Dusen
"I love a good period piece," says Chris Van Dusen, creator and show runner of the new Shondaland series Bridgerton on Netflix.
"I love everything from the sets and the locations to the beautiful costumes. But I also love this set of rules. Period pieces, and the time of the Regency especially, have all of these societal rules that young ladies must follow and gentlemen must follow.
"And I think that world is so rife with conflict. It provided us endless amounts of story in the writers' room. So I've always loved period pieces
"But at the same time, I do think period pieces are usually considered conservative and a little traditional. So with Bridgerton, for me, I wanted to make a period piece that I've always wanted to see and one that I hadn't necessarily seen before."
Based on a series of novels by Julia Quinn, the series follows the Bridgerton family through the Regency period, from 1811,to 1820. When King George III was declared unfit to rule in 1811, his son, the eventual King George IV, the Prince Regent, took over until George III's death in 1820.
Many will recognize the era and its style from Jane Austen books and films made from them, but Bridgerton in some ways turns that image on its ear.
Unlike the homogeneous (white) cast that usually populates stories of the era, Bridgerton has a diverse cast in all strata of the society depicted, as one would expect from a Shondaland project. Van Dusen explains, "I think from the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to make the show reflect the world that we live in today. And even though it was set in this Regency time period, it's something Shondaland has always done. They've always cast shows in ways that are reflective of the modern world.
"So with Bridgerton, we would have a really interesting opportunity to do this very same thing. And for me, it all started with the queen, Queen Charlotte. I read about this [period, along with], talking to a number of historians, and we worked with a number of historians developing the show. And also just in talking to my cast, talking to Regé (Régé-Jean Page, who plays Simon) and talking to Adjoa (Adjoa Andoh, Lady Danbury), we had lengthy discussions about their characters and their backstories.
"But for the queen, a lot of historians believe there's evidence for and believe that Queen Charlotte was really England's first queen of mixed race. And that idea really resonated with me because it just made me think, if that was true, what would that have looked like? And what could have happened?
"And I thought that she, as a person of color, could she have elevated other people of color in society and given them titles and land and dukedoms? And that's really where the character of Simon, in the series, in the adaptation, that's really the idea that he was born out of, that he was elevated by the queen and into this dukedom.
"The first thing that struck me in reading the books was that this was a chance to really reimagine this world. It's a reimagining of the Regency. And we're mixing history and fantasy in a really interesting, exciting way, I think.
"That's one of the things I'm really proud of the show for doing, in a way that makes sense for the world that we really were able to tell these stories of characters that aren't usually typically represented in typical period pieces."
The series also incorporates the lushness and beauty of the period, especially in the scenes of the upper classes. The production design was meant to offer an escape from reality. Van Dusen says, "A big part of the show and one of the reasons why I wanted to do the show was the escapist quality. It's a beautiful, lush, vibrant world. And it provides an escape.
"That's what I want audiences, when they watch the show, to really be taken by and to be transported into this other world at a time when I think that everyone could use a little bit of an escape right now."
As is always the case, casting was important, mixing the right people to make up this world and its inhabitants. Van Dusen explains, "It's an incredible cast. Everyone did such an amazing job, and it's a sprawling cast. And it's a diverse cast not just in terms of ethnicities, but also ages and also experience levels.
"We worked with Kelly Valentine Hendry in the UK. She was our casting director. And we really scoured the UK theater scene. That's where we found people like Golda Rosheuvel, who plays the queen, and Adjoa Andoh, who plays Lady Danbury, who are just incredible. And it was Kelly [who] did such an amazing job.
"Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Daphne, I love her so much. I've watched the show maybe hundreds of times. And literally, every time I watch the show, I notice something new that Phoebe is doing. It's just something-- she has a real vulnerability behind her eyes, I think. I think for Daphne, it was important that she presents as this picture-perfect debutante.
"And she is. She's beautiful, and she has this image of perfection, but there's something vulnerable there behind her eyes. And there's something real and relatable that you actually root for her. It's not an offputting kind of pretty. She makes you root for her. So she's fantastic.
"Regé-Jean Page, who plays Simon, Shondaland audiences will recognize him because he was on a previous Shondaland show before this. And the chemistry that Regé and Phoebe brought to this is just off the charts. When they came in to read together for their chemistry read, I think all of our jaws just hit the floor because we knew we had something special with those two. And you really feel it watching the show, I think. So they both did an amazing job."
Both performers are adept not only at dialogue, but also at filling the pauses. Van Dusen notes, "One of the things I love about a period piece [is that] it's full of these longing looks across the room and across ballrooms. And there's an entire episode of Regé-- of Simon and Daphne where they're not really able to speak to each other. It's the fifth episode. They're not really able to speak to each other. They can't get a moment alone with each other until the very end.
"So for that episode, it's a lot of looks between them. And it's a lot of unspoken dialogue. And, really, the way that they're able to emote and really make you understand what they're thinking and understand what's happening in their heads just by their expressions and not with dialogue is really incredible, I thought."
The cast also includes two legends of theater, film, and television, Polly Walker as Last Featherington, and the incomparable Julie Andrews, or at least her voice, as the mysterious Lady Whistledown. Van Dusen says, " Polly, she's amazing. 'Cause Lady Featherington would have been really easy to kind of turn her into a caricature.
"Because she's larger than life as a character, and you kind of know the type that Lady Featherington is. But Polly, just the levels and the complexity she brought to everything was amazing. She's great.
"And then, of course, we have Julie Andrews playing Lady Whistledown, who's just - what can I really say about Julie Andrews?
"We did all of our sessions virtually via Zoom with her recording the voiceover. And she is just a riot. One of the things I'm really excited for people to see and to hear, rather, are the things coming out of Lady Whistledown-- Julie Andrews' mouth as Lady Whistledown. She gets to say some really scathing, fun things.
"And Julie herself, as I have come to learn, really relishes those cheeky kind of moments, which was really fun. That was one of the best parts of writing the show. It was definitely where I had a lot of fun, was writing the Lady Whistledown voiceover."
Although the first season of Bridgerton seems to wrap up in the final episode, Van Dusen notes that, because the show is based on a series of eight books, plus prequels and sequels to those books, many more stories are ripe for the telling.
He says, "It's a very varied, wide world. But the conception of the show is every season, hopefully, we're going to be able to focus on one of the Bridgerton siblings. And this year was Daphne's season. And we really follow her and her love affair with Simon. So in success, we'd be able to tell stories of all the Bridgertons."
However, like all good show creators, Van Dusen didn't adhere too strictly to the source material, so he has created even more characters to explore if the show should go on to future seasons. He says, "Part of the great thing about a series is that you really get to explore and expand on the source material and really get to know these characters.
"So, for us, it wasn't just about the characters of the books, but we've expanded the world beyond that. We've added Queen Charlotte, obviously. And so that opened up an entirely new world of the queen.
"But in terms of the love stories, we're telling them for other characters that aren't necessarily a part of the books, like for people like Anthony and Benedict and Colin, I wanted to delve into those stories and those back stories this season in hopes that we'd be able to further explore them in future seasons and set up their characters in a really interesting way.
"It's a massive world. And it's not just about the Bridgertons. I mean, I knew from the beginning that it was such a large world that I wanted it to be more about just these eight siblings. I wanted it to be about a world, about a society. And that's really where the show, I think, lives."
In addition to telling the story of the Bridgertons and the other characters, the other driving force of the series is to show how society has not really changed for many people in the last 200 years. Van Dusen's goal in telling these stories is also to tell the audience something about their own society. He explains, "It's about more than just the Bridgertons, it's about this world, and it's about society. And it's a commentary.
"Underneath this beautiful world of these country homes and these amazing palaces and mansions all around Grosvenor Square, there's this really modern running commentary about how, in the last 200 years, everything has changed but nothing has changed. And I think that goes for both the women and men.
"So for the women, they're clad in these clothes, and they have their corsets, and they're literally tied into their clothes. They yearn to bust out of them, just as much as they want to bust out of their lives and just as much as I think women do today. So what we're exploring is really the female plight and how women have been strategizing about ways to assert themselves for centuries.
"And I think that can be looked at today as well. A lot of what they were dealing with then is what is a very modern theme today. It's things like sexism and misogyny and the way women have been treated for centuries. It's about the class hierarchies and how all of these things and the structures have become so entrenched in people's brains, even before the time period our show was set. So we get to look at all that in what I think is a really fascinating way.
"It's about the men as well. The men, and one of the interesting things that you can really see with Anthony Bridgerton, the men are, in a lot of ways, just as bound by the rules. And they're bound by the expectations of society as well. And with Anthony, he's constantly battling this duty to his family and taking charge and being in charge of his family with his pursuit of pleasure you get to see with Siena this season.
"That's where we kind of started with every story in the writers' room. It was trying to figure out not just exactly how things have not really changed and how things can still be relatable to a modern day audience, even though the show is set 200 years ago.
"So we're looking at things. These are people figuring out who they are and who they want to be. It's about identity. It's about family. It's about dating. They just called it courtship back then. It's about marriage. A large part of the show has to do with what a marriage looks like.
"We asked that question a lot during the season, just as far as why do people marry. Some people marry for love or money. Is it to start a family? Is it a way out or a way through? In a lot of ways, for some of the characters, it's how they survived. And that was interesting as well.
"And that's something in success we plan to explore further through the stories of the other siblings as well."
Bridgerton begins streaming on Netflix on Christmas Day.
For more on Phoebe Dynevor, click HERE