If it was the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton season one, season two is about the Sharma sisters. They’ve grown up in Bombay but are no less English than Daphne Bridgerton. They dance with impeccable ease and curtsy in and out of the Queen’s halls with confidence.
There isn’t much about them that’s Indian except for a smattering of words like Didi and Appa and the fact that they have travelled from Bombay to London. But most importantly, the sisters are played by Indian-origin actors. For a show lauded for being colour-blind, the Indian tone adds to the fun.
The Netflix show’s new season is based on The Viscount Who Loved Me, the second of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books. Adapted by Chris Van Dusen, season two follows the betrothal of Lord Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey).
The Ton is buzzing with a new crop of debutantes and fervent matchmaking. Ladies are hoping to fill their dance cards and men are looking for the most suitable wives.
Propelled by duty and compelled to discard his rakish ways, the Viscount declares that the Queen’s pick of the most eligible debutante shall be the perfect candidate to play Viscountess. The Queen (Golda Rosheuvel), egged on by the very influential Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), selects Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran). Edwina is accompanied by her mother, Lady Mary Sheffield Sharma (Shelly Conn), and her half-sister Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), declared an old maid at 26.
Edwina has been groomed to find a lucrative match in high society. She speaks French, Latin, Greek, Marathi and Hindustani and plays the sitar, pianoforte and flute (called “murali” in the show) even though she is never seen playing any of the above or heard speaking any language other than English. Any suitor must first pass Kate’s test and gain her approval before Edwina may be courted.
The steamy romance between the Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page, written out of the new edition) and debutante Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) in season one left audiences swooning. Season two is far tamer, driven by themes of familial duty, sacrifice and suppressed desire. Like Page, Bailey too gets his wet shirt moment. It’s brief but enough to make the Sharma sisters sweat.
Whom Lord Bridgerton does choose comes as no surprise. At an average of 60 minutes each, the eight-episode season is unhurried in uniting the Viscount with his future wife. Kate’s encounter with a bee is awkwardly executed. Thankfully, later intimate encounters are more finessed.
Besides Anthony’s quest for a wife, it is the turn of his younger sister, the rebellious and opinionated Eloise (Claudia Jessie), who despises the feathers, frocks and frills, to come out in society. Eloise continues to be one of the most show’s interesting characters, providing the contrarian viewpoint and constantly commenting on a woman’s lack of agency.
The other Bridgerton children get their storylines too, but they aren’t as compelling. The mission to unearth the identity of Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), the author of a gossip-laden pamphlet that can make or break fortunes and destroy reputations, continues. Whistledown’s rising popularity makes her more ambitious and reckless.
There is sidebar attention on the Featherington family’s shenanigans, including a new Lord Featherington and the many secrets of Penelope (Nicola Coughlan).
We also learn of the circumstances of the death of Anthony’s father and the impact of that incident on him and his mother Violet. Ruth Gemmell has a far more emotional and testing arc as Lady Bridgerton, who watches her first-born struggle with his responsibilities.
In its reimagining of Regency-era London (between 1811 and 1820), Bridgerton continues to be colourful and colour-blind. Instrumental strains of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham play in the background during a pre-wedding haldi ceremony. The background music is dominated by classical renditions of popular hits such as Madonna’s Material Girl, Rihanna’s Diamonds and Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know.
There are balls galore, many visits to the Modiste and plenty of gossip within the Ton. The show is often acerbic and sometimes just plain dramatic. Echoes of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen resonate, especially in Anthony’s anguished romance and in the horse races at dawn. A battle of ego and wits between two single people makes who will end up together quite obvious. However, the passion, intensity and playfulness of the first season’s courtship are missed.
Bridgerton doesn’t take itself seriously. It loves pastel shades and the occasional pop of colour, the dances, hunts, scandals and blighted love. It’s fun escapism, a Regency romp about dishonourable actions dressed up in high-waisted dresses, tailcoats and elaborate wigs.