Madonna and Ariana Grande on the soundtrack, LGBT characters, heroes of all skin colors and nationalities, fuchsia and light green in outfits – no, this is not a modern independent drama in the spirit of “Euphoria” and not a participant in the European film festival. This is the series “The Bridgertons”, the story of a wealthy family from Regency London, a revived ladies’ novel, almost a movie of cloak and sword. As well as the Netflix streaming mega hit (millions of views and first places in the tops around the world, except for Japan) and the unspoken symbol of the reboot of the costume movie genre, that is, period films. He, this genre, seemed forever destined to remain in the backyard of pop culture and on the pages of sentimental novels. But the local became mass, and the heroes of the cloak and sword began to live their own, rather bright life. How did it happen?
From corgis to bears
Novels about brave gentlemen and gentle ladies in trouble both 20 years ago and in today’s age of gender parity look like an anachronism, in which it is difficult to find a place to step forward. And yet he was found – in a new focus, an ironic look. The new optics gave rise to the series “The Bridgertons”, based on eight sweet stories about eight offspring of the same family, authored by the writer Julia Quinn. With the light hand of showrunner Shonda Rhimes, the book story of the exemplary Daphne and the sultry Duke of Hastings turned into a modern discourse on gender prejudice, and after that, other relatives of the heroine went through the process of updating.
Blind casting also added new shades to this sugar syrup, in which the choice of an actor for a role was no longer influenced by skin color. As a result, in the parallel London reality of the Bridgertons, there was enough space for white-skinned nobility, a dark-skinned queen, girls of Indian origin and (even!) corgis not yet brought to England at that time. Without a pretense of historicism, with love and tolerance, convention in this show was elevated to the absolute. But they left the love line untouched and the obligatory happy ending, in which happiness is distributed to everyone and everyone, regardless of skin color.
This approach has already managed to break a lot of copies of the supporters of reliability. Although blind casting and a rebellious spirit in the costume genre is not new at all. The colorful illustrations of the past centuries are increasingly being replaced by new readings and injections of freshness into the stagnant air. This freshness was remembered even by “Marie Antoinette” (2005) by Sofia Coppola, in which the Queen of France from a ceremonial portrait turned into a fragile teenager. Catherine II, played by Elle Fanning from the TV series The Great (2020–2021), continues this line: a young woman living in Russia, surrounded by dark-skinned boyars and bears, who needs to lead the country. Flirting with history repels only the most fearful, in fact narrowing the distance between the viewer and the hero: it makes the characters from textbooks and thick books closer, and the lives they have lived more understandable.
A vivid embodiment of such a conversation “on you” – the series “Outlander” (2014) based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon, the story of a woman from the 40s of the XX century, who finds herself in the world of harsh Scottish highlanders from the XVIII century. What is this series if not a literal digression into history through the eyes of an emancipated heroine? However, a large fan base appreciates Outlander for its progressiveness in a slightly different area: the show was one of the first to actively show erotic scenes and nudity.
From shirts to corsets
In fact, a costume movie is clothes: ladies clad in tight corsets and gentlemen wearing suffocating frills, suffering under the weight of the rules of decency. Coming out of the lake in a wet shirt, Mr. Darcy (ie Colin Firth) from “Pride and Prejudice” is a blatant challenge to these foundations, almost a revolution and the main erotic experience for period films of the 90s. No wonder this moment was then played out in the cinema again and again: either in Bridget Jones’s Diary or in the second season of The Bridgertons.
And it seems that today naked – both male and female – with breasts will not surprise anyone, and every second modern show labeled 18+ has long since torn off all the covers possible. But the advantage of costume cinema is its conventionality, which each time makes it possible to make an event and an aesthetic performance out of exposure. In costume reality, erotic experiences can be evoked by the deftly rolled up shirt of the Duke of Hastings from The Bridgertons, and the waist of his beloved, tightened with a corsage. And frank bed scenes do produce the effect of an exploding bomb. In addition, in recent years, men have become increasingly involved in spicy episodes – to the delight of advocates of equality and the target female audience.
“My family, of course, was not at all happy to see my buttocks, but the rest of the world seems to be quite happy,” Rege-Jean Page, who plays the Duke of Hastings, jokes about this new frankness, and his male colleagues readily strip naked and show off their masculine sensibility on the screen. Spectators idolize these daredevils and at the same time … buy corsets. According to the shopping platform Lyst, this particular piece of lingerie was the most actively searched on the Internet (demand increased by 123%) after the premiere of the first season of “The Bridgertons”. And then they bought it, apparently wanting to get closer to the screen aesthetics.
“It’s just that we visually reinvented the era for a modern audience,” Bridgerton costume designer Ellen Mirojnick explains the request for romance. In the new costume shows, you really can find fewer and fewer ugly bonnets and overly tight bodices. They are replaced by eye-pleasing pastels, floral prints, light gloves, flying dresses and other attributes of the genre, which are quite easy to adapt to real life. The wave of fashion-actualization has even reached the foundations of the costume genre – film adaptations of Jane Austen’s books. In the new Emma (2020), actress Anya Taylor-Joy wears punchy yellow and bright coral and lives in interiors that look like the location of an expensive candy store. And the main character from the show “Sanditon” (2019, based on the unfinished novel Austen) Charlotte Haywood walks along the coast with her head uncovered, in open dresses and without gloves. He also shoots a bow, drives a boat, understands architecture and does not faint at the sight of blood. Why not a modern feminist?
To escapism and back
The heroes of the past days have become better – more modern – to dress (and when to undress), and their life values have come as close as possible to the thoughts and feelings of today’s audience. But the time and place of action of their lives remained unchanged: they live in the past. Or rather, in a mysterious period that never really happened, but which invariably causes nostalgia. Is English life real in the measured estate of Downton Abbey: the unpretentious life of butlers dressed in snow-white tailcoats and the social life of gentlemen dressed to smithereens? Is the New York of the 19th century in the series “The Gilded Age” – this colorful world of wealthy nouveau riches – reliable?
The answer is already known. The costume genre is a fantastic genre, escapism in wonderful timelessness, where the date on the calendar is nothing more than a number. It is not for nothing that a new round of popularity of this type of cinema and TV series fell on the period of the pandemic: when the whole world dreamed of getting into a different reality, free from diseases and lockdowns. And after that, the audience wanted more: and the Sanditon series, which was closed after the first season, at the request of the fans, suddenly received a second season. Escapism has become a new trend.
“It’s a genre with a strange and dangerous longing for something that never happened,” says British creator Sarah Phelps of Bleak House and Oliver Twist. But the current costume cinema is not afraid of such dangers: the new adherents of everything costume are turning the comfort zone into a field for experiments, populating the colorful scenery with new characters, filling them with new meanings. It is in the space of the London Regency, New York of the 19th century or Scotland of the 18th century that the heroes speak more freely about simple and understandable feelings: duty and love, family and friendship. Reality is cynical, dramatic and often scary. The escapist past is a zone free from prejudices, where you can loosen not only the lacing on the corset, but also the hum of other people’s attitudes in your head. And of course, to admire a beautiful dress – so that after viewing you can buy yourself the same one.
Benjamin Smith is a fashion journalist and author at Gossipify, known for his coverage of the latest fashion trends and industry insights. He writes about clothing, shoes, accessories, and runway shows, providing in-depth analysis and unique perspectives. He’s respected for his ability to spot emerging designers and trends, and for providing practical fashion advice to readers.