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    Hot, Liberated, and 1813: Bridgerton

    By Jan Wahl–

    What is it with Netflix? From Prom to Hollywood, from The Queen’s Gambit to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, they are the go-to channel when we need to be entertained or just escape out of the real world. It is as if the mantle of 1930s through the 50s MGM and other studios has been passed along to the imaginative and artistically courageous people at Netflix. Hey, I don’t work for Netflix … I’m just saying that my favorites in 2020 seemed to come from this source. I know it is an investment to those without it, but this is one of the few times I would say it is worth it. 

    Of course, there were other channels delivering this year, especially the creatives behind Mae West: Dirty Blonde (co-produced by Bette Midler, American Masters) and Critical Thinking, an uplifting true story about chess champions in the inner city directed by and starring John Leguizamo. YouTube kept me interested with its short clips from Mel Brooks, Chuck Berry, and classic Hollywood stars on What’s My Line? My own YouTube channel started late this year, under Jan Wahl Showbiz, with fun snippets from my balcony highlighting showbiz objects, books, and movies. It’s fun, and we need that these days.

    There is another romp with a TV series on Netflix. I don’t even want to binge it since I find it to be savored and studied, especially the cast, period storyline, clothes, and jewelry. It is set in Regency, England, circa 1813, among mostly the upper classes; a kind of Downton Abbey meets Sex and the City.  It is called Bridgerton.

    Based on Julia Quinn’s novels, the series introduces us to siblings, parents, godparents, hunky guys, and outspoken girls. The brilliant cast is multi-racial, something show creator Shonda Rhimes (Scandal) insisted on and got just right. We follow elite families as they search for perspective husbands and wives as if it is an Olympic event. The brooding Duke of Hastings and determined Daphne Bridgeton are at the center, but the characters surrounding them are remarkable. There’s feminism, smoking, drinking, and all kinds of sexuality. Forget the blushing virgins of some period dramas; there’s an air here of power and lust. 

    I do classes and talks on Hollywood costumes and jewelry. If you want to add that to your enjoyment of Bridgerton, it is right there as costume designer Ellen Mirojnick (Behind the Candelabra, a wonderful film with Michael Douglas as Liberace) developed 7500 costumes for this series. There are not only detailed, colorful ensembles, but also wild hats (no bonnets!) and jewels for both the men and women in the series. Men were dandies at this time, holding their own with the sumptuous females.

    There’s a fiery actress, Adjoa Andoh, and a very funny young woman played by Nichola Coughland; they keep turning up to steal every scene they are in. The charismatic, hunky Regé-Jean Page and vulnerable Phoebe Dynevor keep us rooting during the chaos of their adventures. 

    I am so glad to see a series with important roles for all ages and body types, as well as ethnic representation. But all said, it is the fun, glamour, characters, extravagance, and joy of storytelling that take this period series and make it great in 2021.                               

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at www.janwahl.com

    Published on January 14, 2021