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‘Bridgerton’: Inside the Refreshing Visual Approach to Period Storytelling


Created by Chris Van Dusen for Shondaland based on Julia Quinn’s bestselling novels, the show’s dazzling, diversely cast and notably sexy eight-episode first season feels both comfortingly familiar and refreshing, conjuring up a gleeful world that blends “Gossip Girl” and “Downton Abbey” with a droll, modern edge. A winning fusion by all accounts: Not only did “Bridgerton” become Netflix’s most successful episodic television debut to date, but it also earned the streamer 12 Emmy nominations.

Centered on the courtship of the blossoming young debutante Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the charismatic Simon Basset, The Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), “Bridgerton” is equally about its rich backdrop of players navigating the busy social season of the early 1800s London. It’s one that overflows with suitors, scandals, and extravagant balls, navigated chiefly by the prominent Bridgerton and Featherington families. A labor of love for the series’ dedicated team of artisans and shot across York, Bath, London, Buckinghamshire, and beyond, “Bridgerton” sports thousands of bespoke costumes and a hundred unique sets. It’s propped by mostly custom-made furniture and offers an inventive approach to period cinematography.

Here’s how a groups of the show’s Emmy-nominated craftspeople — production designer Will Hughes-Jones, costume designers Ellen Mirojnik and John Glaser, as well as cinematographer Jeffrey Jur — pulled it off.

The Regency Era Reimagined

Hughes-Jones approached the show’s contemporary mandate — lavish, witty, colorful and sexy — as pastiche, not something true to period. Rigorous research came first, enabling him to identify anything in the script that contradicted history. Finding a happy medium between the two was next.

“Without being ridiculous, but allowing [ourselves] the latitude to create a heightened world,” said the production designer. An example Hughes-Jones gave is a moment in Season 2, when the spirited Bridgerton sister Eloise (Claudia Jessie) smokes. “Matches were around [then],” said Hugh-Jones. “But they were the latest thing, so [Eloise] wouldn’t necessarily have them. But we surmised that you could get away with it. What you couldn’t get away with is a cigarette [which didn’t exist]. So we said, ‘If she was smoking a cigarillo rather than a cigarette, that would be appropriate.’ Chris embraced that.”

The costume department started its journey similarly with painstaking research. “We could jump off from there and [introduce] the Regency period with a modern twist,” said Mirojnik.

Being among the first designers out the gate, the costumers helped set the tone for “Bridgerton,” ditching bonnets, embracing eye-popping accessories, and renewing the color palette with vibrancy. Generously using overlays and embellishments proved to be a practical way to evolve the customary empire silhouettes of the early-1800s. “Tulle, organza, flowers, stones or bows [over] the real foundation, [free of] the strictness of the period,” said Mirojnik. Saucy is the word they took to heart to achieve something luscious and sophisticated. “Instead of looking back into history, we placed ourselves in that period, as if we were reading a Vogue magazine,” Glaser said. “What would be fresh then?”

Lifted is how Jur defined his buttery, clear-eyed aesthetic: inspired by the real world, but emitting a fable-like appeal. He pulled inspiration from various sources — from Saul Dibb’s “The Duchess” to Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” The latter is Jur’s gold-standard, a look that fuses natural light, candlelight, and the English countryside. To accurately capture all the textures and sidestep a certain “Fabergé Egg” preciousness, he went with the high-resolution Sony Venice camera, dialing up colors but avoiding over-saturation; the goal was to ground the show in a vibe that felt real. He often lensed the environment in a Tableau fashion while also staying close to the characters, making things seem in the present.

Daphne & the Duke: A Costume Story


“Bridgerton”

LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

“Daphne was an English rose,” said Mirojnik. “Her petiteness and complexion needed only the most delicate accoutrements.” In charting Daphne’s journey from an inexperienced newbie in the ruthless marriage market to a self-assured young woman, Mirojnik maintained her simple elegance as a through-line, allowing her space to grow.

“We first created a cut for her in a toile. It was the simplest in the entire show. How her bodice wraps around her body is not like any of the other gowns. Hers starts at the center point, wraps around and sweeps up in the back where there is a waterfall of fabric that comes down from her center-back onto the floor,” Mirojnik said.

Costumers frequently picked different shades of blue for Daphne, using overlayers to set them apart. “[Daphne’s look] boiled down to even a little necklace that she wore [during] the front part of the series,” said Mirojnik. “It’s just a speck of a diamond. We wanted you to feel [the delicacy] from her and [sense] her maturity as the series went on.”

A craftswoman who always loved to tailor for men including in her collaborations with Steven Soderbergh (“The Knick,” “Lucky Logan,” “Behind The Candelabra”), Mirojnik welcomed the opportunity to design a deep tapestry of menswear for “Bridgerton.” “Clothes make the man, don’t they?,” said the costume designer. “When I was going to start ‘Wall Street,’ friends would say, ‘Why do you want to do that? It’s just men in suits.’ No. Not in my head. This show heightened [my love for menswear].”

Among the garments that outlined The Duke were his distinct shirts, not wrapping a drape around his neck, but opening his collar, making it taller. “It [gave] him a swagger, [one] that he has gained throughout the years of travel.”

With her fellow costume designers (John Norster, Sophie Canale, and Glaser), Mirojnik accentuated The Duke’s strength in bold reds and blacks, and coats and jackets with a sharp silhouette. “We found [that swagger] with Regé very quickly. He’s unlike any other man in the whole show. There was a certain je ne sais quois about him: handsome, mysterious, unavailable. Also, he wears his mother’s brooch. No one knows what that is, but [it brings out] that mystery. Elegant and very sexy.”

Two Different Families: Color, Texture, and Composition


"Bridgerton":The Featherington Family NICOLA COUGHLAN as PENELOPE FEATHERINGTON, POLLY WALKER as PORTIA FEATHERINGTON, HARRIET CAINS as PHILLIPA FEATHERINGTON, BEN MILLER as LORD FEATHERINGTON and BESSIE CARTER as PRUDENCE FEATHERINGTON in episode 102 of BRIDGERTON Cr. LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX © 2020

“Bridgerton”: The Featherington Family

LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Differentiating the established and graceful Bridgertons from the gaudily appointed Featheringtons was a chief consideration. The former’s taste was introduced in softer, quieter colors of blues and creams, whereas the latter house, that tried too hard, sported brash prints of greens and yellows. Keeping the two houses’ respective palettes narrow was a joint decision by all, as a way to guide the audience through a crowded canvas of personalities.

“We entered [the two worlds] with food,” said Glaser cheekily. “Macarons, topped with confection sugar [for the Bridgertons]. We thought of them like a Tiffany box. Featheringtons were acidic fruits: oranges, lime, citrus. We called them the Versace family, lots of gold and gild.”

Hughes-Jones looked at different designers of the time for reference. Hints of John Nash, a classic Regency-era architect, were used in both houses. “We [also] looked at Thomas Hope, an interior furniture designer who did beautiful Egyptian-inspired furniture, blacks and golds. A good look for the Featheringtons, who wanted to be the center of attention.”

For Jur, capturing the comedy of the Featheringtons was vital. “We [did] funny frames [with them]. They’re funny actors, [but they did not] make these characters silly. They made them real.” He kept his lens closer and wider with the Featheringtons to accentuate this humorous quality. Since the Bridgertons were more likely to be clustered together, the frames were a little messier.

“We wanted to have a feeling of the family interacting — [we were] connecting a lot of shots between characters and crowding the frames,” Jur said. “So [even when] it’s a close-up of one person in the Bridgertons, there are other people in the background. We kept it looser rather than isolate them and frame them traditionally.”

Sex Scenes: A “Tasteful” Approach


“Bridgerton”

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It’s no secret that intimacy between Daphne and The Duke is in abundance in “Bridgerton,” a show that doesn’t shy away from frank sex scenes in today’s increasingly sterile entertainment landscape. “They get busy everywhere,” joked Hughes-Jones, remembering that they filmed one of the show’s most memorable sex scenes on day one of production — it takes place in Episode 6, on the library ladder, in “Atonement” fashion. Everyone’s focus was on the actors’ comfort. They lined the ladder steps with padding, with beautiful detailing of velvet and brass around it.

“For every location, we had to be aware of how we were going to shoot it in a tasteful way,” said the production designer. “We used a lot of four-poster beds. We allowed [ourselves] modesty elements in front of the camera. Jeff [Jur] and I had a lot of conversations about these scenes, trying to backlight them as much as possible [to have] a semi silhouette to them.”

Since these scenes are often choreographed with an intimacy coordinator, Jur paid close attention to rehearsals to determine where the camera could best see the action in a refined way. “It’s not so much about skin, but about how they’re connecting. There’s [also] a certain amount of detail you need to capture. So I’d find an angle. Then I’m usually free to roam, finding [interesting] pieces.” It was mostly a game of deciding what to hide versus expose, making lighting an essential part of the play, showing just enough, not too much.

“[For instance], starting on Phoebe’s face, not knowing what was happening and then slowly [realizing],” Jur said. “Obviously, you have to protect the actors. And they were amazing. Free, open and professional. Very relaxed. That’s a set that I like to work on and create.”

Glaser said they found a balance between fabric and sensuality that fit the romantic duo’s personalities. The intimacy scenes felt so natural to him. Mirojnik agreed. “We never had to force anything. [The Duke] would undo the back of a dress, a dress [would] slide up on the leg and the stocking [would] fall. A shirt [would] come undone, [looking] just as sexy undone as it did done. [Daphne’s] bosom would look as beautiful in a corset or in a nightgown. Restricted and unrestricted.”

Keeping 11 Balls Distinct and Cohesive


"Bridgerton" Ball

“Bridgerton”

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At first, balls felt quite vague to Hughes-Jones, before he asked Van Dusen to furnish each with a separate theme. Then came ideas like the Crystal Ball, the Bird Ball, and the Ingenue Ball. From there, it was a matter of synergizing colors and sets, maintaining a manageable palette within each, and not splurging all visual avenues on one. “The biggest thing for me was the amount of them,” said Hughes-Jones. “I think we had three balls in three days in one location, which [must be] a record.”

The trickiest one to pull off was the social season’s final that gets rained on: The Hastings Ball of Episode 8. To keep the cast warm in January cold, the rain tank was filled with heated water. With a last-minute decision between him and Set Decorator Gina Cromwell, the cream-colored roses generously decorating the party were painted a different shade to match the powder blue and violet shades of the dresses.

Overlayers once again came to the rescue of Mirojnik’s team in conceiving the balls. They wanted a blurred, magical, painting-like feel through the movement of fabrics. “It was as if you were going into a fantasy land,” Mirojnik said. Every costume worn in the balls was bespoke and individually fitted. While Mirojnik lovingly remembers all the balls they have dressed, she has a special fondness for the black-and-white-heavy Trowbridge Ball in Episode 4, which graces a grand, checkered dance floor. “[It was] not as glistening [as the other balls]. The musicians were romantic looking. And the two girls singing were even more elaborate than in any [other] ball.”

No stranger to filming dance scenes, “Dirty Dancing” DP Jur relied on his steadicam operator Leo Bund and worked closely with choreographer Jack Murphy. “[You need to be] able to dance with the dialogue. [We found] the dialogue looks great when you’re outside looking into the dance. So we would always have the dancers behind [the characters], trying to keep the ball present, even [during] intimate dialogue. He loved observing the restraint inherent to the intimacy of dancing. “There’s so much holding back, which is fun to watch.”

Period Light: Resourceful Problem Solving


“Bridgerton”

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Jur had to be  resourceful in how he approached candlelight, the prevalent light source of the era. He was conscious of not copying films with supposedly candlelit scenes that denied themselves the realistic softness and dimness of the candlelight. Then again, he also knew they couldn’t be “Barry Lyndon” either — a cinematography masterpiece that went to great technical lengths to rely on real candlelight. In the very first ball in Episode 1, shot in the same ballroom used in “The Duchess,” the cinematographer wanted to generate a feeling that the light was coming from above, where there were big chandeliers.

“It was a huge, spectacular ballroom in Bath, England. [But] you can’t really touch these places. They’re like museums,” Jur said. In order to not meddle with the place, “we had helium balloons with lights in them that float up to the ceiling. So you don’t rig any light. It’s great because it’s very pretty and fills the space up easily, quickly. And as long as it’s not too bright, you can have candles as well. So [we] mixed those two together, creating this beautiful glow.”

Another light-related design conundrum would need to be solved for the Voxel Gardens in Episode 1. The setting was initially a historical mystery to Hughes-Jones, one he solved through research and artistic intuition.

“[There are] a lot of good references about Voxel Gardens, the play parks of the period. Lots of drawings, etchings, even some photographs,” Hughes-Jones said. “One of the things that shines out in them is, it looked like they had lights all over them. But there was no electricity. We [tried] to work out what these things were and came to the conclusion that they were either mirror discs or Christmas balls. So we ended up building some sets covered in Christmas decorations. It was our interpretation of it. Our Christmas supplier was very excited to get an order in March-April time.”

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