Bridgerton's sex scenes are less sensual than any Jane Austen classic

There’s nothing sexy about Bonkerton! It’s the hot new Regency romp. But what irony, says LIBBY PURVES, that Bridgerton’s explicit sex scenes are far less sensual than any Jane Austen classic

  • Bridgerton has become one of the most viewed programmes on Netflix 
  • Series warns the audience of sexual violence and sex references from the start 
  • Libby Purves argues full nudity and sex is well catered for by ‘adult’ channels

There’s always been a rule book when it comes to period dramas, particularly festive ones.

In the well-trodden adaptations of Jane Austen, with their Regency balls and prim ladies in correct cotillion, the most risqué of jokes extend no further than references to rear and vice admirals.

The frocks may be tightly laced under every temptingly plump décolletage, but unlacing will never occur on screen.

How very different from the Netflix blockbuster Bridgerton.

Netflix’s Bridgerton has become one of the most viewed programmes on the streaming service, but Libby Purves argues the series is ‘filthy’. Pictured: Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page in Bridgerton

Libby said the resolution between Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr Darcy at the end of Joe Wright’s 2005 Price And Prejudice is magnificent. Pictured: Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in Pride And Prejudice

For this series, which has soared into the streaming site’s most viewed programmes after being well-binged since its Christmas Day release, takes quite the opposite approach.

It’s on the edge of spoof: a Regency romp with preposterous made-up titles, silly lapdogs, huge wigs and tiny waists as two families compete to get their debutante daughters correctly married.

Phoebe Dynevor (daughter of Sally from Corrie) is the beautiful Daphne, who hesitates as she is drawn towards the handsome yet rakish Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page).

Meanwhile, mothers plan, dowagers snigger and hunky titled men lead dissolute lives, all narrated by gossipy pamphleteer Lady Whistledown, a horribly arch voiceover by, heaven help us, Julie Andrews.

The show is as shallow as a puddle of Prosecco and, at times, quite funny.

After many spent a year largely in tracksuit bottoms, the costumes are particularly pleasing. Altogether, the best description was from an acquaintance, who said it feels as if a box of leftover Quality Street had decided to stage their own soap opera.

But goodness, it’s filthy. Forget Bridgerton; Bonkerton would be more apt.

Let’s hope that families were not too dazed with food over Christmas to ignore the very discreet warning of ‘sex references, sex, sexual violence references’ at the start.

Social media has been filled with tales from those who’ve found the series awkward to watch with family. Pictured: Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page in Bridgerton

Certainly, social media was awash with tales of awkwardness as families recklessly dived in, looking for something to fill the Downton-shaped hole in their hearts, preferably involving feathers, flounces, stately-home shots and innocent young creatures doing romantic gavottes with the Duke of Somebody.

Maybe the makers knew that there wouldn’t be many multi-generational gatherings in 2020.

Even the most strait-laced great-granny would probably be all right with the sex-against-a-tree five minutes into episode one, perhaps balk a bit at the full-starkers entanglement and bare male bum ten minutes later and then relax for a while.

But, believe me, by the time you get a few episodes in — where the innocent Daphne is eagerly having all manner of sexual acts explained and demonstrated to her by the dashing Duke — some of the family will be cringing behind the sofa.

While you may be able to stomach it if there are no corruptible young children present, those of my own generation, the 1950s grannies, will still find themselves wincing.

And for God’s sake, don’t watch it with your teenager, for the well-being of both parties.

Libby argues it isn’t accurate to assume everyone appreciates full nudity and ferocious physical action from actors on screen. Pictured: Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page in Bridgerton

That’s the trouble these days: streaming services mean there is no longer any such thing as a TV watershed. Gone are the days where everyone lived by the theory that if you can’t get your children to bed by nine o’clock, it’s your fault if they learn a lot of bad words and the facts of life.

I have nothing against Bridgerton, and it is at least funnier than the dreary, if more dignified, stuff Lord Fellowes keeps churning out.

Perhaps, regrettably, we have to accept that gone are the days when the sight of Colin Firth in a wet shirt was enough to leave a generation of Bridget Joneses hysterical with desire.

But the trouble is that, as with much new drama, Bridgerton’s attempt to be realistically erotic achieves exactly the opposite for many of us.

The presumption that we all appreciate full nudity and ferocious physical action from actors on the screen is not quite accurate. That minority is well catered for by ‘adult’ channels.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have little interest in watching other people heaving sweatily around while the weird new profession of ‘intimacy co-ordinator’ stands by checking that every inch is fully consensual.

Libby says audiences are yearning to see a representation of love we truly empathise with. Pictured: Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page in Bridgerton

What we yearn to see, what we truly empathise with, is that sense of connection: the dizzying sensation of falling in love, heart beating like a drum as you realise someone is simply perfect in every way and you long for their touch.

A screen kiss is fine (though rarely very convincing) and there’s nothing wrong with a shot of two people entwined, thrilled to be alone, or waking up happily in one another’s arms.

But the most powerfully electric moments are the ones you could perfectly well watch alongside family of any age and morality.

At the end of Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride And Prejudice film, when there is at last a resolution between Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr Darcy, the moment is magnificent.

After both have suffered and thought everything was lost, Darcy declares that his feelings are unchanged, and Elizabeth sees heaven open before her. But they don’t even kiss. They simply lay their foreheads together, in a moment too rich for speech.

Forget rutting on a spiral staircase; small, subtle gestures are what really make you feel that sexual tension. Like the scene in the stage version of Brief Encounter when Alec drapes Laura’s cardigan over her shoulders and the audience (well, me) are on the edge of fainting in the stalls.

Or, indeed, the one really exciting scene in Bridgerton. At a key moment (no spoilers . . .) the Duke tells Daphne she can now do without her elbow-length white gloves. So he draws them off, and — gasp! — touches her wrist. That’s the way to do it.

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