Not only is the hit Netflix series adapted by Shonda Rhimes extremely erotic by period drama standards – which has made for some interesting family viewing – it also examines sexuality through the lens of the female gaze.
And, in an industry that still insists on portraying female sexuality in a passive, weirdly unrelatable way, this is a rare and wonderful thing.
The decision to put female agency centrestage in Bridgerton’s much-lauded sex scenes was a deliberate choice by director Julie Anne Robinson, and one she built into other elements of the show’s storyline, especially with regards to the relationship between Daphne Bridgerton (played Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page).
“I think that it’s impossible to talk about female gaze without exploring issues of sex and power,” Robinson tells Deadline.com in a new interview. “So I was very interested in Daphne’s journey in the episodes, and seeing something that is normally told through one set of eyes, seeing it through another set of eyes.”
The production team’s determination to explore female agency in Bridgerton meant they went about filming very carefully, using an intimacy coordinator to help with that now-famous honeymoon sequence.
“I was very proud of that because all that anybody talks about is the sex — undesirably by the way — but for me as a director, it was a storytelling challenge because it was about something but you couldn’t talk about and you couldn’t see, it was very delicate, and each scene had to tell a story,” says Robinson. “We achieved that; to get the nuances of those scenes right was my challenge as a director, and I was proud of the result.”
She adds, though, that working within the confines of an authentic regency home presented the team with challenges on the sex front.
“When you go into a country house, there is far less flexibility than you can ever imagine, you can’t move the bed, you can’t move the painting, you can’t move the wardrobe, and you have to be quite delicate with the furniture,” explains Robinson.
“So in the Duke’s bedroom, which was in Castle Howard, (Dynevor and Page) spent a lot of time in that bed, and there were room monitors in the room when we were doing the sex scenes, and they wouldn’t leave.”
Bridgerton’s focus on female desire has gone down a storm with fans, no doubt contributing to the fact that the series has been streamed over 60 million times since its release on Christmas Day.
“In Rhimes’ hands, sex isn’t just about naughty titillation (though dear god it is hot),” notes Stylist contributor Daniela Elser. “It’s about freedom, identity, and a delicious exploration of self.
“And watching one particular character revel in her discovery of sheer carnal delights, including masturbation, not only makes for great viewing but also makes a great point about female desire, too.”
It’s a refreshing take that also appeals to the show’s stars, including Phoebe Dynevor (Daphne).
Speaking about the scene where Daphne admires the Duke of Hastings as he gets dressed, she said recently: “So many times I’ve seen that done where it’s the man laying back in bed, with his chubby belly, and the woman is absolutely gorgeous in every way, and you see all of her beautiful backside.
“To flip that on its head was so interesting to me.”
As Netflix’s fifth-biggest original TV series of all time, Bridgerton will likely to return to our screens at some point in the future when filming restrictions around coronavirus ease; and when it does, we expect more in the line of feminist sex scenes that put the female gaze firmly front and centre.
Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.