Updated: Apr 4
I recently read the Duke and I, and watched Bridgerton and here are my thoughts on the TV series as versus the book. *SPOILERS ALERT*
To be honest, I watched the TV series first, before reading the book. I have always been a fan of Shonda Rhimes since I watched Grey's Anatomy. She has a flair for drama and of course, her shows apart from depicting a lot of smut, are also distinctive for their colorblind casting and interracial romance. I would like to argue first and foremost, that Shonda's Bridgerton, although following closely the plot in the book, is quite a work of its own. It has all Shonda's trademarks. Here I will quote the Wiki summary for those who have not heard of the series yet: "Bridgerton is an American period drama series created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes. It is based on Julia Quinn's novels set in the competitive world of the Regency era during the season when the debutantes were presented at court."
“You have no idea what it is to be a woman. What it might be like to have one's entire life reduced to a single moment.”-Daphne Bridgerton.
The story mainly revolves around the family drama, gossips, and intrigue surrounding the Bridgerton family, although Julia Quinn manages to create memorable side characters, whose lives were highlighted in the TV series. My favorite supporting character is, of course, the ghost author who writes under the pen name Lady Whistledown, who turns out to be one of the Featherington daughters. I would consider the show as a feminist piece, since the story is mostly about women, written by a woman for women audience. Even I cannot help but feel really strongly about Marina Thompson's tragic plight.
Why the colorblind casting matters
The Duke of Hastings, aka Simon Bassett, could not have been portrayed by a more sophisticated actor than Regé-Jean Page. Here we have an African actor essentially portraying a white male character, as described by the author herself as: "[someone who] puts all of Michelangelo's statues to shame. His eyes were oddly intense—so blue they practically glowed. His hair was thick and dark, and he was tall—as tall as her brothers, which was a rare thing." We could sense Shonda's attempt at creating another McDreamy as she experiments with this character.
Strangely, after watching the TV series, I cannot unsee the Duke as anyone else but Mr. Page. I cannot see Daphne Bridgerton - the young, innocent, wide-eyed debutante played by Phoebe Dynevor- with anyone else but the dashing, handsome African Duke. Even the story of the Duke's strained relationship with his father due to his stuttering problem suddenly befits more of a typical African family drama, rather than a white family in a Regency era. However, I suspect that this might just be Shonda's magic at work. She has that ability of blurring distinctions between races and cultures, and eventually, get at what it is that makes us truly human when we fall into that predicament many of us call "love". It is of particular note that apart from African American actors, there are hardly any Asian actors, apart from that one South Asian actress. Why not go all the way, one may wonder?
Julia Quinn's The Duke and I
When I finally came around to reading the novel, I was struck by how faithful the TV adaptation was to the plot set out by the author. With one exception.
I still feel that Julia Quinn's novel is too much of a slow burn for me. The author takes her time, and we don't see a lot of actions going (mostly talking) between the two main characters until many, many pages later into the book. However, this may just be the standard for historical romance novels set in Regency era, i.e. the characters tend to be overly verbose and there is not much to do for the women, except for lounging around and gossiping. On the other hand, the audience only gets a mere eight one-hour long TV episodes and Shonda manage to tell it all - Daphne and the Duke's story in its entirety, even with the additional prolonged sex scenes- within that short period of time. I feel that it is barely a TV series, considering that a typical period drama usually runs for over twenty episodes for one season. I suspect that Shonda could have even turned it into a two-parts movie, each four hours long.
Of course, reading the story is not comparable to watching it on screen, minus the sound effects. Again, it has the soundtrack choice has all of Shonda's imprint all over it, just like in Grey's. The music sets the pace and the tone of the scenes, with Shonda preferring to blend both classical and pop music this time around, and may I add, the editing was finely executed. The episode titles are also designed to entice with the pilot named "Diamond of the First Water", giving much promise of what is to come.
Ultimately, I feel that if anything, Shonda adds a unique quality that no other TV producer could have done, to the already unique story by Julia Quinn. Some people say that Netflix took a risk when they decided to adapt the novel to the big screen. I say, it was more of a calculated choice.
Image (Chibi drawings) courtesy of anime artist Dwi Rahayu @dwirahayu52