(Credit: Liam Daniel / Netflix)

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'Bridgerton' season 2: A makeshift Jane Austen rip-off?

'Bridgerton'- Chris Van Dusen
7.2

Slow burn romance with sky-rocketing sexual tension dominates the second season of Netflix’s Bridgerton. Created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, season two is based on Julia Quinn’s novel The Viscount Who Loved Me. It deals with the romantic pursuits of the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony, as he tries to find a wife in this year’s courting season. 

Starring Jonathan Bailey as Anthony, most of the cast returns in their reprising roles. This includes Nicola Coughlan, Adjoa Andoh, Phoebe Dynevor, Lorraine Ashbourne, Bessie Carter, Harriet Cains, Ruth Gemmell, Martins Imhangbe, Florence Hunt, Luke Newton, Claudia Jessie, Luke Thompson, Golda Rosheuvel, Polly Walker, Will Tilston and Julie Andrews. 

Simone Ashley joins them as Kate Sharma and Charithra Chandran as her sister, Edwina. The Sharmas move to London from Bombay to attend the courting season at the Regency-era London, where the younger sister is named the diamond of the season by Queen Charlotte. While Anthony courts Edwina, he incurs the displeasure of her disapproving elder sister, Kate. Kate is spirited and independent and refuses to put up with a man’s shit, and she gives in her best to help her sister bloom into a fine, opinionated young woman. 

However, with her starry eyes, peach colour palettes and lavish dreams, Edwina tries hard to assimilate into the aristocratic British society. Despite having nearly no common grounds with the Viscount, she finds herself envisioning a life with him. Anthony, on the other hand, is conflicted. The once carefree and womanising Viscount from season one is seen as a pensive and brooding man whose past trauma compels him to build an emotional wall. Losing his father to a bee sting, Anthony is a man-child whose shoulders the world was thrust upon at a nascent age. Devoid of the space to grow up, Anthony carries the burden of his past and has a panic attack when his foe-turned-lover gets stung by a bee. 

Anthony perseveres hard to be Jane Austen’s revered character, Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. He attempts to be ignorant, nonchalant and dismissive of his feelings but lacks the classic Austenian swagger. Kate, on the other hand, is an enigma. She is strong-willed and constantly spars with Anthony. The high sexual tension between them is fuelled by stolen glances, forbidden touches, illicit imaginings and successive romps in the mud and rain. Kate bests Anthony in almost everything, and his disdain for her culminates into fiery passion, as is common in various romance novels. 

The second season also sees the period-drama Gossip Girl Lady Whisteldown discovered by her best friend. The showdown in the final episode is an addition to the rueful musings of Penelope Featherington, played by Nicola Coughlan, throughout the season as the ones close to her express their sheer distaste for the anonymous gossip queen. However, in her blue cloak and Irish accent, Coughlan wows us with her scheming antics and dire need to find allies. 

While the season is not as raunchy as the first, it focuses a lot on the female experience making it a win-win situation. Kate’s moral dilemma, passionate longing and interest in the Viscount, and the innate desire to secure a stable future for her mother and sister (who are her father’s second wife and daughter, as revealed later) sum up the Regency-era concerns of a woman. She also talks to Eloise Bridgerton about the downside of being an unmarried woman in a male-dominated society. Kate stands her ground through judgemental comments, vicious stares and gossip; she is aided by the unwavering support of her mother and sister, who are nothing like the step-mother and step-sister stereotypes fuelled by Cinderella

Including a racially diverse cast and the casting of brown women in such focal roles is a brilliant win for the show as it is historically accurate. The phenomenal usage of Indian fabrics, jewellery and clothing, besides other celebrations like the Haldi ceremony, within the show, helps uphold a diverse and multi-cultural viewpoint. Kate and Anthony’s slow-burn and extraordinarily frustrating but rewarding romance saga ends with the Bridgertons gathering for a game. At the same time, Penelope’s scandalous gossip and journalistic expose continues, hinting at the arrival of a few more seasons.

Expect a dash of scandals, gossip, secret and conflicted rendezvous, an adorable Corgi and an abundance of desire and opulence. However, the creators need to think of something more original and refreshing to make it stop seeming like an absolute rip-off of Jane Austen’s works.