Netflix Bridgerton is a Regency romance about young people trying to win beneficial games. But what actually makes it memorable is its older women. They’re not just annoying busybodies or arrogant moms – but they certainly have their moments as busybodies and arrogant moms. But they also have different personalities and interests, and it is their presence that ultimately strengthens the show’s central theme, marriage.
Bridgerton doesn’t just end with a happy wedding. After that, it goes on to address the complications that arise after the vows, particularly during the Regency era in England. Marriage is important to characters in the world of BridgertonNot just for romance, but also for security, status and security. By consolidating the older characters and their own views on marriage, Bridgerton offers a more complex discussion of love and marriage than a simple white wedding ending.
[Ed. note: This contains major spoilers for Bridgerton]
The two women who offer the most diverse views on marriage are the Viscountess Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) and the Baroness Portia Featherington (Polly Walker). As the respective matriarchs of the Bridgerton and Featherington families, their views on marriage guide most of the main characters. Violet, although widowed, married out of love and hopes that all of her children can do the same. Portia, meanwhile, maintains a loveless marriage for her three daughters and will do everything possible to secure her matches to men who can care for her and not waste money. Viscountess Bridgerton speaks lovingly of her late husband and reaches for his empty side of the bed; Baroness Featherington can hardly bear to be in the same room as her, who has gambled away his daughters’ dowries. While Violet encourages Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) to follow her heart, Portia is indulgent and cunning, taking advantage of her niece’s popularity, Marina (Ruby Barker), to snatch suitors for her daughters and eventually try to get used to the Bridgertons, to benefit from their social status. At first it seems easy to categorize the two women: Violet is the good mother and Portia is the bad.
But Portia loves her children. Her plan may be rude, but she only does it to make sure her daughters are looked after. She believes that love games are unrealistic; The best a woman can do is marry someone who isn’t kidding her. She may push her shy daughter Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) out of her comfort zone, but Portia does so because she knows the fate of her daughters if they don’t secure good games. At the end of the season, when Marina finally realizes she has to marry a man she doesn’t love (who at least cares for her), she asks Portia how she had a loveless marriage for over 20 years.
“You find things to love, my dear,” Portia replies. “Little things. Big things like your babies too, and after all, they’re enough.”
It’s not the most romantic answer, of course, but it’s the realistic one. As it turns out, not all loveless games are unlucky.
Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), the mother figure of the Duke of Hastings, is widowed and enjoys her life. She holds a get-together for married women that Daphne expects to be stuffy, but it’s actually a lively party full of alcohol and gambling. Not only do they run a household, they have fun too. In fact, throughout the show, several married couples talk about how great it is to have separate lives from their spouses (for a variety of reasons). They all have the security of marriage but the understanding that husband and wife do not have to live under false pretenses. It’s a viable alternative – especially if the coveted love games don’t always lead to perfect bliss.
One reason Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) is so obsessed with reading the latest gossip of the season is because her husband’s poor mental health means they can’t even have a conversation over dinner. Other characters mention her once loving marriage to King George III, but the Queen looks wistfully at her sprawling husband when the servants take him out after a dinner that goes awry. She longs for the vicarious romance she observes from high society because of the lack of her own romantic life. It becomes a vice as she constantly tries to interfere with matches. Just because a marriage was once made for love doesn’t mean love can sustain itself.
When it comes to Violet Bridgerton, her own happy marriage may have skewed her children’s expectations, especially those of Daphne. Daphne marries without basic guidance on what happens after the vows, and that leaves her massively unprepared for the realities of marriage. Bridgerton questions this lack of sex education and relationship management in the Regency era when Daphne tearfully confronts her mother in a garden and tells her to go out into the world completely unprepared.
In the final episode, Violet is ready to tell Daphne about the realities of marriage – although she and Viscount Bridgerton made love, it wasn’t all bliss. While their love was strong, it was an active choice to love one another that sustained them through difficult times. It’s a short speech, but it dispels the idea that the secret to a happy marriage is simply a love match.
Bridgerton gets a full, happy, romantic ending for its main couple – with more complicated endings for the other young characters to set the stage for a future next season (in the universe, the next round of marriage matches; for us at home, the literal next season). The stakes were already set in the first episode, but by the end of season one it is clear that there is more to a match than just falling in love – and that marriage is not the end of all things. There’s life after the wedding, for better or for worse, and through the lenses of the older women in the series, Bridgerton shows a full panorama of what that means.
Bridgerton is currently streamed on Netflix.