Bridgerton season 2 review: Netflix period romance is still vibrant fun despite the Regé-Jean Page shaped hole

Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey more than rise to the occasion as Bridgerton’s new romantic leads

It is a universally acknowledged truth, dear reader, that a television series in want of its leading man shall be subject to intense scrutiny – and rampant speculation as to its continued quality. Bridgerton’s erstwhile breakout star Regé-Jean Page has departed the Netflix series in pursuit of more lucrative employ elsewhere, and the series finds itself now characterised by his absence. One wonders whether it might easily replicate the charms and strengths of its prior effort, or will Bridgerton’s star perhaps now shine that little bit less bright?

For its second season, Bridgerton has transfixed its gaze on another sibling of its eponymous family. Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) finds himself now navigating the treacherous waters of the ton’s romantic scene, determined to find a suitable wife and partner (amiable and pleasant, he insists, rather than anything more passionately emotional than that). The viscount perceives Miss Edwina Sharma (Chaithra Chandran) to be the most eligible young bachelorette, but first must convince her older sister and guardian Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) – obstinate, self-sacrificing, and fiercely independent, in every aspect the mirror of Anthony Bridgerton – that he is indeed a suitable match.

One might contend, gentle reader, that Bridgerton’s new season improves on its first in some ways. For all the fun of Bridgerton’s society debut, it dwindled as time passed – the immediate pleasures of the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton’s initial courtship giving way to a strangely bitter sexual psychodrama that ended the series on a less triumphant note than that it had struck as it began. This latest effort is a rather more consistent affair than its predecessor: perhaps never quite reaching the same dizzying highs, but certainly never falling to the same most worrying lows.

Most of that comes from Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley, who share crackling romantic chemistry – he’s more than capable of stepping up to the plate as Bridgerton’s protagonist (even if, one laments, that seems also to necessitate rather less lively sideburns), and she proves an excellent romantic lead indeed. Bridgerton’s second season indulges in a slowburn romance (an enemies-to-lovers piece following the previous fake-dating model), much more committed to quiet yearning and longing glances than explicit sex scenes. Insofar as it holds one’s attention, that’s entirely to the credit of Bailey and Ashley, every inch the perfect romantic leads.

Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, and Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton (Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

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But, noble reader, as Bridgerton strays from Anthony and Kate it is less markedly less successful in terms. That central couple proves compelling, but the same compliment cannot always be levelled at everything that surrounds them. Many of the Bridgerton siblings remain eminently forgettable and struggle to leave much impression; where Jonathan Bailey was always obviously ready to lead a series of Bridgerton while waiting in the wings last year, the same is not as clearly true of the other siblings (even if they might eventually rise to it well enough).

Particularly perplexing are lofty overtures towards self-critique, as Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) wishes Lady Whistledown spent a little less time gossiping and a little more time reading the feminist treatises of Mary Wollstonecraft. A fine sentiment indeed, but Bridgerton invites viewers to indulge in its own tale of gossip and high society whispers, the regency’s answer to DeuxMoi; if it must then also turn around and question that premise, surely its alternative must be equally compelling if not moreso? Eloise Bridgerton’s own plotline meets no such requirement, in the end, and appears only to be evidence of a drama with more minutes to fill than it knows what to do with.

All these stray plotlines speak, perhaps, to an uninhibited opportunity for maximalism – an opportunity Bridgerton indulges far too often for its own good. There is simply no just cause for an episode of Bridgerton to surpass an hour in length once, let alone thrice: multiple instalments reach the wearying total of seventy minutes or more, an object lesson in the dangers posed by a lack of restraint. Much like Inventing Anna, there’s a need for a firmer, more exacting editorial hand – though Bridgerton’s proprietor Netflix may pay no heed to excessive runtimes, it’s plainly to the detriment of the programme itself, which would surely benefit from being that little bit more taut.

But ultimately, oh increasingly exasperated reader, it cannot and indeed must not be understated how truly terrific Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley prove to be. In a just world, it’d catapult them both (particularly Ashley, who arguably has the more difficult role and is somewhat less established already) to the same instant stardom and recognition as Rege-Jean Page in years gone by. Whether that comes to pass or not, though, it is at least easy to pronounce them both the most sparkling diamond of the season.

Bridgerton Season 2 arrives on Netflix on Friday 25 March. I’ve seen 6 of a total of 8 episodes before writing this admittedly very strained review.

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