Penelope Featherington has a question for TV audiences who find it easier to accept the existence of dragons than a Black queen. During a recent appearance on the British talk show This Morning, Nicola Coughlan compared Bridgerton to Game of Thrones while speaking about the show’s diverse casting. The series — based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn — has earned both praise and criticism for casting Black actors like Regé-Jean Page as Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings, and Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte.
Coughlan, for her part, defended the show’s decision to cast people of color in non-traditional roles by comparing Bridgerton to another popular series. “I would say to people, ‘You can watch Game of Thrones, and you can completely suspend your disbelief that there are dragons in this world,'” the actor explained. “For Bridgerton, you can suspend your disbelief that we have a black queen and a black duke, and they’re the most fantastic actors.”
She continued by noting that she hopes other period dramas will follow in Bridgerton’s footsteps and continue to cast the best actor for the part, regardless of their race or ethnicity. “I’m so proud of it, and the reaction that we’ve had is just really heartening, and I hope that it will be a benchmark for what period dramas can be in terms of diversity,” Coughlan said.
While the cast and crew have defended Bridgerton’s inclusivity, Coughlan did admit that there is one downside. “[I was] speaking to Adjoa Andoh … who’s brilliant as Lady Danbury,” the actor recalled about one conversation that helped her understand the importance of how the casting was handled. “I said, ‘Color-blind casting, it’s great, it’s totally the right thing.’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s not, in a way, because it sort of erases race and erases people’s struggles.'”
While Coughlan admitted that thought never occurred to her, she ultimately thinks the series is a “completely reimagined world” and should be treated as a historical fantasy, rather than an accurate period piece. Page — who plays the handsome Duke of Hastings — echoed those sentiments in a December interview with The Guardian. “It’s not color blind casting because I don’t think it’s helpful to put brown skin in the show without putting brown people in the show,” he explained.
The actor continued, “This show is a glamorous, ambitious Cinderella fantasy of love and romance — I don’t know why you wouldn’t invite everyone to come and play in it, especially since we’re serving a global audience on Netflix. It takes so little imagination to include people, as opposed to how much thought and effort it takes to keep people out of these stories.”
Coughlan and Page aren’t the only ones who have appreciated the effort that has gone into casting actors of all backgrounds in Bridgerton; as the Derry Girls star pointed out on Twitter, the series is Netflix’s fifth-biggest original series to date. “You know the way some people were like ‘Diversity in period drama doesn’t work’….63 million households thought it did tho so,” Coughlan wrote on Jan. 5. “Remember people were trying to downvote the show on IMDB cos it was so diverse?” the actor added. “You can’t downvote us being Netflix fifth biggest original release ever.”
Written by Julia Emmanuele
Published January 13, 2021