Bridgerton and the Modern Period Drama

As Bridgerton season three continues, Student Abi Sames reflects on the modern period drama genre

As season 3 of Bridgerton drew near, I, like many fans, engaged in a hurried rewatch of seasons 1 and 2 and the prequel series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (2023). I threw myself back in as soon as I heard the announcement for the new series, but in my elated rush, I finished my rewatch too quickly. This left me with over a week until the release of the third season and a period-drama-shaped hole in my heart. 

To fulfil my craving for ball gowns and emotional repression, in the days leading up to the release of season 3, I revisited other influential period dramas of the 21st century. In particular, films of the period drama genre that have stuck most in my mind as a lover of all things screen. However, the difference between my first viewing of these films and my viewing of them now is that I now study creative non-fiction for a Creative Writing degree. I don’t just enjoy films like a normal person, now. I review them. Like an intellectual. So, let’s review some iconic modern period dramas and figure out what makes them so tantalising to contemporary audiences. 

Cinephiles interested in female filmmakers may remember Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), a film that is, admittedly, slightly before my time (I was only five years old when it came out). It was a movie characterised by exquisite costume and set design, an exaggerated form of the style we associate with 18th-century French Aristocracy. The clothes and food displays were all deliberately loud, lavish, and beautiful, with pinks and pastels taking centre stage in the colour palettes- a nod to the feminine influence of Antoinette herself and the female-driven narrative of the film. All of this stunning visual design was notably contrasted with contemporary music tracks from angsty rock artists such as The Strokes, The Cure, and New Order, highlighting the film’s themes of isolation and breaching adolescence for its modern audience. 

In Little Women (2019), we received a star-studded period drama with all the glamour you would expect from Hollywood’s finest whilst telling a warm and relatable story of sisterhood and the struggles of 19th-century American women. It was directed by Greta Gerwig, who had already gained a reputation for her ability to deliver nuanced, female-driven stories after the release of Ladybird (2017). Her adaptation of Little Women was a great example of a “feminist revision,” a genre that has risen into popularity in the last 20 years in which an author looks at old works of fiction and “revises” them for a modern audience with modern feminist social values in mind. Thus, the film gave new life to an old classic and exuberantly reintroduced it to a new generation.  

Director Carrie Cracknell took her talents from the theatre to the screen with Persuasion (2022). It was one of many adaptations of Jane Austen’s work that we’ve seen in film. Unsurprising, given her legendary authorship. The book Persuasion is also set in Bath, where any Bath-dwellers will know the author resided between 1801 and 1806. If you don’t believe me, look up the Jane Austen Centre. The film featured fourth-wall breaking, which is frequently present in modern comedies, as well as a relatable messy protagonist and modern colloquialisms. These features allowed the narrative to follow plotlines and dialogue relatable to a modern audience while maintaining the romantic aesthetics of early 19th-century England. 

So, what do these films and Bridgerton have in common? They approach the period drama genre with pleasurable stylistic combinations of historical settings and modern narrative techniques. You could argue that Bridgerton’s attractiveness as a series is driven by its “steamy” content. Granted, few watch Bridgerton solely for the plot, but Bridgerton and these other iconic pieces are about more than just heated glances and forbidden touches. They’re about the female gaze and the stifling confines of expectations placed on women. The period drama is where themes of the past can be given a modern flare because the challenges and intricacies of womanhood transcend time. Bridgerton knows this well and never fails to give us a gripping romance as a result.

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.



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