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15.01.2021

Bridgerton, Beauty, and #RelationshipGoals

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BRIDGERTON

It was the distraction that the end of 2020 needed: a mash-up of a Jane Austen novel and the noughties teenage drama Gossip Girl. With all eight episodes arriving on Netflix on Christmas Day, Bridgerton was streamed by 63 million households within the first four weeks.

Filled with colour, featuring beautiful people in eccentric costumes, and narrated by Julie Andrews, it is delightfully escapist viewing, centred around debutante Daphne Bridgerton as she seeks to find a husband.

Enter Simon, the Duke of Hastings, a man who has sworn off marriage and future children due to a traumatic childhood. For various reasons, Daphne and Simon decide to fake a courtship, but soon the pseudo-romance becomes a real one.

Over the course of the series, Bridgerton sets up the success of Daphne and Simon’s relationship as the ultimate. The ‘hurdles’ they face – abusive pasts, poor communication, long-held grudges, societal expectations – are designed to make us desire their relationship’s success even more, giving a transcendent meaning to the protagonists’ love.

And it works.

But such wilful pursuit of one thing over all others comes at a cost.

Daphne’s fears of a future without a husband and children result in her sexually assaulting her husband in the hope of getting pregnant, and refusing to accept any responsibility for her shortcomings.

Simon’s emotional scars from his abusive father lead to him lying to the woman he loves and wilfully depriving her of what she desires and what – according to societal norms – she has a right to: children of her own.

Bridgerton appears to end happily – the couple stay married and in the final scenes we see them clutching a newborn, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. But throughout the series, there is no real sense of ‘treating others how you would like to be treated’ (cf. Matthew 7:2), nor is there any redemption: no apologies, no forgiveness, no justice.

Perhaps that’s what made the series so enjoyable – the complete and utter escapism of it. But no matter how beautifully you dress it up (literally or metaphorically), selfish pursuit of goals instead of sacrificial love will ultimately lead to destruction – of ourselves and our relationships.

As much as Daphne and Simon might be #relationshipgoals because they are beautiful and well-dressed, with clear chemistry and many a lingering glance, they are not portraying love in all its fullness.

That can – paradoxically – only be found in the laying down of one’s life.

Alianore Smith
Alianore (formerly Nell Goddard) is the Church Partnerships Manager at International Justice Mission UK. She tweets as @alianoree.

Please note: this programme contains some sexual content and nudity

Comments

  1. Brigerton

    The writer makes helpful points about the Netflix series Brigerton but I am surprised she didn’t issue a viewing warning!
    We have been watching it recently and have enjoyed the storyline and much about it. However there have been moments when I haven’t been sure I should continue watching. I have seen few programmes with such explicit love making scenes and there are explicit scenes of a debauched nature in a club. Nothing is left to the imagination. I certainly wouldn’t write an article which appears to recommend the series without some warning .

    By Glenys Richardson - 15 Jan 2021
  2. Spoiler alert!!! You could have warned us you were going to tell us what happens at the end of the series. I haven’t watched it yet but fully intended to!

    By Annie Houghton - 15 Jan 2021
  3. Art yielding what culture (and profit) demands?

    By Chris Edmonds - 15 Jan 2021
  4. I don’t consider Daphne and Simon to be relationship goals, and personally I don’t think the series portrays them that way either. They’re flawed people in an even more deeply flawed system trying to do the best with what they have.

    I think the real antagonist in Bridgerton is the restrictive patriarchal culture that has a negative effect on every character.

    If anyone in Bridgerton is relationship goals, it’s Eloise and Penelope and their friendship. And Eloise and Benedict’s sibling relationship.

    By Lyndall Cave - 16 Jan 2021
  5. I agree with Glenys Richardson – while I agree the series was more than period porn, it certainly was that, as well as the more positive aspects both your reviewer and Richardson highlight. The statement at the end mentioning “some sexual content and nudity” was inadequate for a Christian organisation’s website.

    By Chris White - 18 Jan 2021
  6. Thanks so much for your comments, all – really interesting to hear people’s responses. One of the aims of a Connecting with Culture piece is always to spark discussion, so I’m delighted to see it has done so here.

    I think the point around a warning to do with sexual content is a really important one, and, as you will see, we have now added one at the bottom of the piece. However, I would be wary of warning people off watching Bridgerton merely because of some scenes of a sexual nature.

    The main point of LICC’s Connecting with Culture pieces is to give Christians the ways and means to speak faithfully about cultural artefacts that are part of the public psyche and discourse – one of which, at the moment, is Bridgerton. This piece, then, means that people can engage in conversations about it without having to watch it if they don’t want to, and if they have watched it, have been given a way to think about it which is more in line with Gospel truths and a Christian worldview.

    I understand that there may be many Christians out there who have chosen or will choose not to watch some programmes due to some of their content. They will likely make that decision based off their own research, the Netflix rating, and the content warnings included at the beginning of the programme. I would expect everyone to make their own judgement call based on their own boundaries (c.f. 1 Corinthians 10:23).

    It is very much worth noting that there are many (especially younger generation) Christians who – rightly or wrongly – would not avoid watching a programme that all their friends are watching just because of the sexual or violent content… you just need to look at the popularity of Game of Thrones, for example, to see that! There is a principled Christian realism to this fact, so this piece and others addressing sexually explicit popular culture serve a good purpose of minimising harm and helping them navigate what they are watching, for better or worse.

    I understand some (or all!) of you may disagree with this, and really happy to chat further if helpful – do drop LICC an email using the contact form and it’ll find its way to me 🙂

    By Alianore Smith - 18 Jan 2021
  7. Spoiler alert!
    I would point out that the Duke is prepared to lay down his life for Daphne in a duel

    By John Howard Stothers - 20 Jan 2021

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