The Netflix series appears to offer escapism, but look closer, and you will recognise the threat of scandal and knowing glances in beauty spots
With its lavish ballroom scenes, jaunts to buy the latest Parisian-style rustling silk dresses and the lingering promise of seduction from a handsome yet mysterious duke, you could be forgiven for thinking that Netflix’s new series Bridgerton offers the perfect form of escapism.
Indeed, the series has taken a nation under lockdown by a storm, and is, at time of writing, the most-watched programme on the platform in the UK.
But that success may also be due to the fact that the series, set in the early 19th century and inspired by Julia Quinn’s bestselling novels, has something in common with our current situation. We, too, are promenading around the park, exchanging knowing glances – and well aware of the threat of scandal if we step out of societal norms.
In the height of the tier system and lockdown, parks and beauty spots have become hives of carefully regulated social activity and gossip, where people go to “take the air” with their chosen exercising companion, or in their bubbles – or, perhaps, more illicit pairings.
One of the things that has kept me going in the pandemic is long, aimless walks. Strolling around Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath has felt like being in a Jane Austen novel, where characters step out to see and be seen, and share a bit of gossip.
I have been bumping into people everywhere – a primary school classmate, a colleague, a former colleague, a friend and her boyfriend, a family friend on a date.
Bridgerton’s anonymous scribbler Lady Whistledown reports on the social season, where young gentlemen and ladies dance chastely at balls and must meet only when chaperoned, until that all-important proposal.
But she always keeps an eye out for what is happening on the fringes, knowing that there will inevitably be rule-breakers.
As she notes, describing the scene as the camera lingers over a decadent, dazzling soirée, everything is perfect, with not a rhinestone out of place, but this can be shattered with a single, spontaneous kiss.
These days, secret contact between households is once again enough to provoke a scandal (or even a fine). Even a touch on the shoulder or a hug with a much missed friend is now hopelessly transgressive.
Thankfully, our era of watchful distance has a sell-by date. Like corsets and strict social mores, I’ll be happy to leave it in the past.