Neflix’s period dramas alter the historical perception of hundreds of millions of viewers who otherwise have little or no knowledge of the respective eras, rewriting it to fit trending ideologies, Zoe Strimpel writes in an opinion piece in The Spectator.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Bridgerton family, Netflix’s great winter blockbuster in England, is how bad it is, Strimple writes, calling it an expensive collection of clumsiness that stinks of Americans’ interpretation of the British aristocracy. The dialogues are lousy, the grimaces of the ladies are infuriating. Strimpel says that it sends viewers an invitation to let go and enjoy it even if the dialogue is over the top. So far, “Bridgerton” has been viewed by more than 80 million households.
Strimpel considers the series to be the most cheeky of any historical drama to date, as in her opinion the period drama is dominated by a vision of the past roughly rewritten by the sensitivities of the present.
“People are worried about fake news. I am worried about pseudo-history,” Strimple writes.
The author recognizes that history in pop culture has always flourished in line with contemporary tastes and ideologies, but draws attention to the fact that this can also be done skillfully and subtly. She cites the BBC’s “Gentleman Jack” as a good example, or other series such as “Call the Midwife!” or, in the case of “Downton Abbey”, which started down a good path but ended up showing an age that is “sentimental and awkwardly woke”.
On the path to deterioration, she writes, feminism set the film industry in motion, pointing out that wherever one looks, significant women have been portrayed as truth-seeking and sassy women who are also sexy, such as Dickinson’s protagonist, Emily Dickinson, a 19th-century American poet who twerks to a Taylor Swift tune in the film. And in Hulu’s 2020 film about Empress Catherine the Great, there was no interest in anything that might seem even remotely factual.
Strimpel believes this matters, writing:
“The past is increasingly being massaged to fit the present fixation with diversity. For those committed to exposing Britain’s racist, colonialist past, an overhaul of what counts as historically significant is the first step. Statue toppling is one approach, ‘decolonising’ the curriculum another. Museums are under pressure to ensure their collections fit with the contemporary narrative. Is it silly to worry about the part played by trashy romps in all this? I don’t think so. History is picked up unconsciously. Over time, assumptions about the way things were come to shape mass understanding of the way things are. Fiction becomes fact. With its hundreds of millions of viewers, what Netflix decides is history matters.”
Deep in the Bridgerton family, Strimpel says, there is a “revisionist dream” which elevates colored people to the upper strata of former English society based on the flimsy evidence that King George III of England fell in love with a Black woman. For the sake of this narrative, the series purports that Princess Charlotte was Black — all based on the claim of an unnamed historian that Charlotte’s ancestors included one of the Moorish lovers of the Portuguese royal family.
However, Strimpel warns that even if we believe there is a lot of Moorish blood in the Portuguese royal family, “this hardly means the Queen was ‘black’.”